FOXBORO, Mass. — Is this the year Josh Uche finally realizes his potential for the New England Patriots?
The man often tasked with blocking him believes so.
Offensive tackle Trent Brown declared Wednesday that this will be a “breakout year” for Uche, the 23-year-old linebacker who showed promise but made only sporadic on-field contributions during his first two NFL seasons.
“I think he’s going to have a great year,” Brown said after the Patriots’ first training camp practice. “I think he’s going to have a breakout year. I think he’s another guy that took strides over the offseason. He’s prepared through the offseason, and he’s ready to go.”
Brown said Uche, a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is noticeably “focused” as he enters Year 3 in New England.
“Watch him,” the O-lineman said.
Buried on a veteran-laden depth chart last season, Uche currently projects as a starter opposite Pro Bowl edge rusher Matthew Judon if the Patriots employ the same defensive scheme. The Michigan product also has the versatility to play off the ball, which he has done on occasion in his NFL career.
Judon delivered a positive review when asked about his potential running mate.
“I think we’ve got a lot of people that are going to do a lot of good things, and I think Uche is one of them,” he said. “So, yeah. But Trent knows. He goes against him and he sees the work that he’s putting in, and he sees what he has done so far. Josh was leading us in sacks at one point in time (last season). We’ve just got to get him going. And I think once he does that, he’s going to be a really good player.”
It’s true that Uche was the Patriots’ sacks leader through two weeks last season, notching one in a season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins and two more in a Week 2 win over the New York Jets. The problem? Those were the only sacks he recorded all year.
Over the Patriots’ final 16 games, including their playoff loss in Buffalo, Uche managed zero sacks, zero tackles for loss and just one quarterback hit. He missed five of those games due to injury and hardly played during the final month of the season, logging fewer than 10 defensive snaps in three of the final four contests.
But comments from multiple coaches suggest that should change this season, with the departures of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins freeing up snaps for younger ‘backers. Linebackers coach Steve Belichick in May said he sees Uche “being a big part” of the Patriots’ 2022 defense, and Bill Belichick concurred.
“I agree: I think he is a big piece of our defense,” the head coach said during organized team activities. “We’ll see exactly what it turns out to be.”
Uche downplayed the fact he’s seen significant reps with the defensive starters in spring practice and training camp. But he acknowledged the opportunity he has with players like Hightower, Van Noy and Collins now gone.
“It’s next man up,” he said. “Each of us has a job to do, each of us has an opportunity, and it’s up to us to come in, work hard and seize that opportunity. That’s what it comes down to: hard work.”
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