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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When a team’s season ends with a dud that the New England Patriots experienced in the playoffs, the focus quickly shifts to potential corrections. Who can be available in free agency? Which perspectives could best fit into the draft?
It is a cycle every year that can arouse excitement and hope.
But another area that is often overlooked in media coverage – and is crucial for coach Bill Belichick and his staff to drill deeper into this offseason – is the development of the latest draft of Day 2, which is already on a team’s list.
This is especially true for the Patriots at linebacker, a position where an infusion of speed and different skill sets is needed.
Did you happen to notice Logan Wilson of the Cincinnati Bengals buzzing all over the field in Super Bowl LVI? Not sure how anyone could have missed No. 55, and his performance (9 tackles, 3 for losses, 1 pass defense) provides a springboard to explore this area where the Patriots fall short.
Wilson is the Patriots’ version of Josh Uche.
The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Wilson was a third-round pick in the 2020 draft out of Wyoming. He came off the board as No. 65, five choices after the Patriots traded up for 6-foot-3, 245-pound Uche.
In the most important match of his team’s season, Wilson played every snap in defense, another five on special teams and was one of the best players on the field.
In the most important game of the Patriots season – the playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, where one goal was to aggressively rush quarterback Josh Allen with an element of vision and containment – Uche was limited to just six snaps. Three of them were kneeling.
Wilson is also the Patriots’ version of Uche’s former Michigan teammate Chase Winovich.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Winovich was selected in the top half of the third round of the 2019 draft, No. 77 overall. Pass-rushing is his strong point, and when he is at his best, he also flies around on special teams.
But in a game that the Patriots had to win to continue their 2021 season, Winovich was a healthy scratch.
Wilson is also the Patriots’ version of Anfernee Jennings.
The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Jennings was a late third-round pick in the 2020 draft out of Alabama, No. 87 overall. The hope was that Jennings could be a physical, versatile player – a bit like Patriots veteran Dont’a Hightower, with the ability to play on and off the battlefield – but it has not come to anything. He spent the 2021 season on injured reserve after not reporting to top-flight training camp.
That’s a tough truth, but the Patriots’ recent Day 2 draft picks at linebacker have been wildly disappointing, and answering “why” is an important part of the team’s offseason.
For if the Patriots can not identify why – with Wilson’s Super Bowl performance a good reminder of the desired results – the cycle is bound to continue in the wrong direction.
It is possible that they simply chose the wrong linebackers. It happens to all teams, and it’s not like the Patriots have not hit on Day 2 defenders at other positions in recent years, such as safety Kyle Dugger (2020 second round) and defensive tackle Christian Barmore (2021 second round).
But it is also possible that what the Patriots are doing on schedule does not allow the young linebackers’ natural abilities to be maximized. There’s a reason the invested assets to move up on the board of Uche – he’s an explosive player with a special ability to bend the edge like a rusher – but there has been an interruption somewhere in his draft- and development process that has resulted in the things that do not come to the fore consistently.
How much is the plan – where Belichick is often described as a “technician” prioritizing a “multiple” entity using a game-plan approach from week to week – part of it?
Much has changed since Rosevelt Colvin played linebacker for the Patriots (2003-08), but many of the same principles and principles still apply. He shared insights into some of the obstacles for young linebackers in the scheme.
“I had to learn that there are specific things Bill wants out of the defense. There’s a process and I want to say to young people that the learning curve is to understand, ‘Hi, it might not always be best to drive 100 miles per hour. ‘Sometimes you have to take a step back and say,’ What is my role and how can I make everyone on the pitch better? ‘, “He said.
Colvin, who arrived in New England in his fifth NFL season, tells a story from his first minicamp that captures the momentum.
“I was burning over the edge. It looked like what I had done in Chicago; when I was up on the ball, it was more than likely a flash. So I thought, ‘I’m going to blow this up.’ And I rolled. But Bill came to me in the middle of the rehearsals and said, “Rosie, you can not do that.” I literally asked him why because I was doing acting. He said: “You may have made that game, but if it was a pass instead of a race, we would have been in bad shape.”
“So I think for young guys, it starts with getting over the hump of ‘what is my role and how do I play it best?’ They need to know the basics.If they can not add and subtract, there is no way they get to algebra …. I would say that it is not necessarily as complicated as people might think – you need to be able to adjust , that’s the biggest thing. “
In one of his various media interviews last week, assistant coach Jerod Mayo noted that the Patriots are always looking to “get faster, more explosive and put more playmakers on the field.” The words stood out because the Patriots have several recent Day 2 draft picks at linebackers that fall into that category yet could not get on the field, when it mattered most.
So before addressing who can help in free agency and the draft, the patriots must first look inward.