Despite an abbreviated preparation period, Josh Uche looks poised to play a significant role in his first New England Patriots season.
Uche, a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, has been heavily involved at the second level of the Patriots’ defense in training camp.
Jerod Mayo has been pleased with the versatile linebacker’s progress through two weeks of practice, including three sessions in full pads.
“Josh, like all the rookies, has come in and done a great job as far as in the classroom but also on the field,” Mayo, the Patriots’ inside linebackers coach, said after Friday’s practice.
“(We) obviously still have a long way to go, but his attitude and just overall presence is impressive. Hopefully, we can continue this throughout the season. So we’ll see where it goes. He’s a very versatile guy. We’ll see what happens.”
The Patriots were forced to overhaul their linebacking corps this offseason after losing Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts to free agency and captain Dont’a Hightower to a COVID-19 opt-out.
Hightower’s absence could result in a greatly expanded role for Uche, who showed top-tier athleticism and pass-rushing prowess at Michigan. Third-year pro Ja’Whaun Bentley has said he’s prepared to take over for Hightower as New England’s defensive signal-caller.
Rookies Cassh Maluia (sixth round) and Scoota Harris (undrafted) and second-year pro Terez Hall also are vying for roster spots as inside linebackers. Hall flashed with two goal-line run stuffs in Thursday’s practice, and Maluia has stood out on multiple occasions, including an interception against Cam Newton on Wednesday.
Asked about Maluia on Friday, Mayo praised the Wyoming product’s movement ability but said the mental aspect of his game needs work.
“I think first and foremost, you’ve got to start with just his overall athleticism,” Mayo said. “He can run, he’s fast, he can do a lot of different things there. We’ve just got to focus on the classroom with Cassh. Hopefully he can contribute, not only on defense but also in the kicking game, but we’ll see.
“It’s tough coming in here as a rookie. It’s tough coming in and really being able to display your athleticism when you’re thinking so much. Cassh, hopefully he continues trending in the right direction, but we’ll have to wait and see for the next couple of weeks.”
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots