Rookie linebacker Josh Uche should’ve been playing a role on the Patriots’ defense a lot sooner than Week 8.
Fans in New England were left puzzled when the Patriots listed rookie linebacker Josh Uche as a healthy scratch for their opening game of the season against Miami. That confusion only intensified when he subsequently landed on injured reserve with ankle and foot injuries, further delaying his highly-anticipated NFL debut.
However, it soon became clear that head coach Bill Belichick was slow-playing Uche after his stellar showing throughout training camp because he’s making a transition from an edge rusher, which he was predominantly deployed as at Michigan, to an all-around linebacker.
That obviously isn’t going to happen overnight and Belichick generally takes all the time necessary to develop young players. Well, Uche finally made his NFL debut on Sunday against Buffalo and it quickly became clear that, despite his limited playing time, he should’ve been unleashed a lot earlier in the season.
Uche only played 12 snaps vs the Bills, but saw action at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, on the edge as a pass rusher, and at cornerback. While he didn’t make a huge impact in the game — not many players on a snap count would — he showcased enough potential that proved he should play a prominent role moving forward.
The 2020 second-round pick’s most notable highlights included a hit on Josh Allen that helped force an incompletion as well as an impressive open field tackle of the Bills quarterback coming off coverage of running back Devin Singletary when Allen attempted to scramble.
When you consider the sheer inconsistency from the two players currently ahead of Uche on the depth chart, there’s really no reason for him not to play more snaps. Ja’Whaun Bentley is not only questionable for Week 9 with a groin injury, but he also ranks 77th out of 82 qualified linebackers in terms of Pro Football Focus player grades. He’s just been bad.
Even if Bentley does suit up this upcoming Sunday, his glaring ineffectiveness should NOT have him playing much more than Uche again.
Anfernee Jennings, meanwhile, strangely didn’t see the field against Buffalo after playing 80% of the snaps vs the 49ers in Week 7. That tells us Belichick either wasn’t satisfied with his play and was punishing him, or he simply didn’t fit into the defensive game plan for the Bills.
Either way, the lack of options in front of Uche, coupled with his encouraging debut, proves that Belichick can make up for the mistake of not deploying him sooner by fully unleashing him for the rest of the season.