If you’re looking for the most damning piece of evidence that the Patriots experienced unprecedented turnover in their linebacker room this offseason, consider this: John Simon, who arrived in Sept. 2018, has the most game experience among that group in New England’s defense.
It’s true. Simon has played 27 games and 665 defensive snaps with the Patriots. Derek Rivers was drafted in 2017 but has played just six games with the Patriots. Ja’Whaun Bentley was drafted in 2018 but has played just 19 games and 413 snaps with the Patriots.
Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun and Terez Hall joined the team in 2019, and Brandon Copeland, Scoota Harris, Anfernee Jennings, Caash Maluia and Josh Uche are new this year.
Gone are Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, all of whom departed in free agency, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who opted out. Special teams linebacker Brandon King is on PUP/reserve and will miss the first six weeks of the season.
“Those guys were a big part of the defense and we’re a different team this year,” Simon said Friday on a video conference call with reporters. “We play with what we have. We have a lot of young guys who are smart, willing to go out there and play hard. It’s our job as vets to make sure that they’re ready to go. It’s their job also to study and be in the playbook and do everything they can to make sure that when their number is called, they’re able to do it. It’s a give and take. We’re working well together. We’re starting to communicate well with one another. We’ve just got to keep building that relationship.”
Simon played 47.6 percent of defensive snaps last season, starting 13 of 16 games. He’s expected to play an even bigger role this season with Van Noy, Collins and Hightower gone.
Simon, however, isn’t necessarily looking at it that way.
“It’s not just me,” Simon said. “Everyone on the team, we have a lot of guys who will do whatever the job calls for. So, whatever the job calls for week in and week out, we’re going to prepare to our fullest and try to do our best on Sundays or Thursdays, Mondays to execute it to the best of our ability. We’ve got a lot of guys who are very versatile and can do multiple things. Whatever happens, happens.”
Simon was a mostly unheralded contributor last season who was overshadowed by his “Boogeymen” teammates, but he finished the year with four sacks, 44 tackles, three QB hits and 15 hurries.
It would be an upset if Simon isn’t a starter again this season. The Patriots will need to count on his experience to guide younger high-upside players like Bentley, Winovich, Jennings and Uche.