Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings’ coming-out party was scheduled for the New England Patriots’ Week 9 primetime showdown with the New York Jets. It was promptly postponed even after starting linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was ruled out with a groin injury.
Uche, Jennings and fellow rookie Cassh Maluia were the only healthy off-ball linebackers left on the 53-man roster after Bentley was made inactive. Jennings played just seven defensive snaps, however, and Uche was on the field for just four plays. Terez Hall, a second-year pro freshly elevated off of the practice squad, was Bentley’s top fill-in, taking on 30 defensive snaps (65 percent).
“This past week, Josh had more of a third-down role for us,” ex-Patriots linebacker and current inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said Friday. “He has great quickness to rush the passer and things like that. And then Anfernee had more of an early-down role. So, kind of splitting up those roles and really concentrating on a role instead of having those guys out there down after down after down after down, especially at this point in the season.
“So, we’re midway through the season now and hopefully those guys can take on a little bit more. But we’ll have to see.”
It’s difficult for a rookie to acclimate into the Patriots’ defense because it tends to be modified depending on the matchup.
“I know you’ve heard Coach (Bill) Belichick always talk about we’re a game-plan defense,” Mayo said. “So, as soon as you get caught up, we’re moving on to the next thing. So then the following week, we’ll use some of the principles from two weeks ago today even though it has a small tweak.
“I think that’s really the challenging part for guys who come in here. Most of these colleges, they run the same four or five plays over and over and over again and try to get good at those plays. Not the case here in New England. I think just the multitude and us changing every week, that’s the difficult part of picking up our playbook.”
There is hope that Uche and Jennings will be able to see more action as the season progresses. Uche only made his NFL debut in Week 8 against the Buffalo Bills after a stint on injured reserve. Jennings has played sporadically throughout the season.
“We’ll have to see what these guys are able to handle,” Mayo said. “One thing we don’t want to do is overload these guys and now they’re out there playing like robots. These guys are good football players and we want them to go out there and play free and not have to think about a lot of different things. But those guys approach the game the right way. They come to practice and work hard each and every day. They have some great leaders around them that they can shadow and learn from whether it’s study habits or on the field.”
Both Uche and Jennings are versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker. Bentley is questionable to play this week as he continued to mend his injured groin. Hall reverted back to the practice squad but could be elevated Saturday for the Patriots’ Week 10 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.
Mayo, for the record, won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Patriots in 2008. So, it is easier for some first-year players to adjust.