Much-Hyped Patriots Draftee Declares ‘Time Is Now’ After Lost Rookie Year

'Last year was a long year'

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FOXBORO, Mass. — After a season spent largely in the film room and on the sideline, Cameron McGrone is ready to show the New England Patriots what he can do.

Speaking with reporters on Day 1 of organized team activities, the second-year linebacker said he’s fully healed from the ACL tear that wiped out his rookie season.

“With my knee, there’s no problem,” McGrone said after Monday’s practice. “That’s a thing of the past. I’m just looking forward now.”

The Patriots drafted McGrone in the fifth round last year knowing he’d likely be unavailable until Year 2. Director of player personnel Matt Groh said the team is treating the Michigan product — who at just 21 years old is the third-youngest player on New England’s roster — like a de facto member of its 2022 draft class.

But unlike this year’s rookies, McGrone entered OTAs with a strong grasp of the Patriots’ defense, having soaked up information from position coaches Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick and veterans like Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Ja’Whaun Bentley for the previous year-plus.

Groh said the Patriots are “excited to see (McGrone) be in an expanded role” this season.

“Last year was a long year,” McGrone said. “A lot of learning. A lot of hard days working out, trying to get back, rehabbing. But the time is now. I’m back out of the field. Still a lot to learn, still a lot to improve on, but I’m very excited just to be up here with the rest of the guys working.”

McGrone essentially redshirted last season as his knee healed, but he was able to practice for three weeks late in the year. During that time, he thoroughly impressed Steve Belichick, who recently said McGrone “really didn’t look in any sort of way out of place” amid a roster of veteran players who all were in midseason form.

“It definitely helped a lot,” McGrone said of his practice cameo, which ended when he reverted to the physically unable to perform list in December. “Spending all that time in the rooms with the older guys watching film and just learning there, and then to be able to put it on the field just for a couple weeks towards the end of the season was really good for me to just get my feet back wet and just get into it. So now, coming in with that knowledge, I’m just really excited.”

It’s rare for the Patriots to hype up a young player the way Groh and Belichick have this spring, especially one who has yet to play a single snap in the regular or preseason. They clearly like what they’ve seen from the young ‘backer behind the scenes, and his skill set should give New England a jolt of speed and explosiveness it lacked at the second level last season.

McGrone is undersized (6-foot-1, 236 pounds) and athletic — a stark departure from the big, 255-plus-pound bruisers the Patriots typically target at the linebacker position.

“I definitely believe it’s my strong suit — speed,” McGrone said. “I think anywhere the ball is on the field, I can get there.”

The Patriots have several players of that ilk in their current linebacking corps, with Raekwon McMillan (6-2, 242) and Mack Wilson (6-1, 233) also falling well short of the organization’s traditionally preferred weight threshold. Bentley, who re-signed in March and is a favorite to keep his starting job, is a throwback thumper at 6-2, 255, but Hightower (260 pounds), Van Noy (250) and Collins (255) all exited this offseason.

It remains to be seen exactly how McGrone will fit in this new-look position group. Though he said his knee is full-go, he was a limited participant in Monday’s practice and didn’t take part in competitive team drills. Bentley and McMillan manned the two inside linebacker spots on New England’s first-team defense, with Wilson also rotating in.

But after months of watching, learning and waiting, McGrone looks poised to compete for a major role this spring and summer. He can’t wait.

“I’m very excited,” McGrone said. “There’s no nervous bone in my body. I know what I have to do. I know the time’s coming. I was waiting for that time, and every day, I’m just going to keep working to that point.”

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