FOXBORO, Mass. — Matthew Slater had some seriously high praise for New England Patriots rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley one day after the linebacker’s NFL debut.
Slater, the Patriots’ longtime special teams captain, compared Bentley to former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was part of Slater’s New England draft class in 2008.
“He reminds me a little bit of a guy that I got drafted with here,” Slater said Monday. “They wore the same number (No. 51), too. He’s a good kid. He’s really done a great job.
“He’s really been a leader. His buy-in has been tremendous. His play on the field has been tremendous. He’s a player that players in this locker room really trust and have a lot of confidence in, so hopefully he’ll continue to grow and improve like the rest of us. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for him.”
Though injuries ended his career after eight seasons, Mayo was an excellent player for the Patriots, earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, two Pro Bowl selections and a first-team All-Pro nod in 2010. He also served as a team captain in each of his final six seasons.
Slater sees many of Mayo’s leadership traits in Bentley. There’s one significant difference between the two, though: draft slot.
Mayo was a first-round draft pick who entered the NFL with high expectations. Bentley had to wait until the fifth round earlier this year before the Patriots snatched him up, making his rapid emergence all the more impressive.
“I just think he’s not afraid to be himself, to lead,” Slater said. “He’s a very intelligent player, and he’s going to hold guys accountable. The 51 that came in with me (Mayo), that’s what he did better than anyone I’ve ever been around.”
He added: “It takes a special guy. It doesn’t happen very often, especially when you have a strong, established locker room. But there are those guys that come around every 10 years or so, and hopefully (Bentley) can be that for us.”
Having vaulted over veteran Elandon Roberts on the depth chart during the preseason, Bentley matched his jersey number with 51 defensive snaps played in Sunday’s season-opening 27-20 win over the Houston Texans, the most of any Patriots front-seven defender. The Purdue product finished with seven tackles, one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss while also playing 15 snaps on special teams.
“This kid’s been productive at every program he’s been almost as soon as he’s been in the program,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday, “so I don’t see it as a big shock.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images