New England Patriots 2019 training camp primer: Linebackers
Here’s what we know…
The dynamic duo of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy return for their fourth season playing together. While they aren’t quite on the same stratospheric level as the Dallas Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch (who were ranked ProFootballFocus’ top linebacking tandem in the NFL last season by a wide margin), they’re still two of the best at their position in the NFL.
Hightower has been with the Patriots ever since he was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. A two-time team captain, Hightower has made a name for himself by coming up absolutely huge during some of New England’s most critical games. Namely, it was his shoestring tackle on Marshawn Lynch that set up the Malcolm Butler interception play in Super Bowl 49, and his strip-sack of Matt Ryan that turned the tide in the Pats’ historic comeback victory in Super Bowl 51.
Hightower sailed a bit under the radar last season, posting his lowest sack total and second-lowest tackle total in seven professional seasons, despite starting a career-high 15 games.
That said, Kyle Van Noy capably picked up the slack for Hightower, leading the team in total tackles by the time the regular season was over. He also had the third-highest sack total on the team (highest among linebackers), and was somehow even better in the playoffs, where he posted a line of 18 total tackles, three sacks, and one forced fumble over the course of three Patriot victories.
Also returning to the ranks of the middle-fielders on the New England defense is Elandon Roberts, who quietly has become one of the better linebackers in the NFL over the span of three years. A former Houston Cougar, Roberts has seen the number of games he’s suited up for steadily climb every year that he’s been in Foxborough, and that shouldn’t change in 2019.
Finally there’s Brandon King, who just signed a two-year contract extension to remain with the club through 2021. While King didn’t see any snaps defensively last season, he was a standout player on special teams, as SB Nation’s Bernd Buchmasser noted in his profile on King earlier this summer. Belichick, famous for his attention to and prioritization of special teams, no doubt feels more confident about the oft-overlooked third phase of the game just by King’s presence alone on the field, so he’s a virtual lock to make the final roster.