2020 Training Camp

Patriots Camp Questions: No. 4 – Will Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings & Brandon Copeland plug Hightower gap?

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We kicked off this series asking if linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley was ready to take on a major role this season, given the departures of Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts.

Well, in light of Dont'a Hightower's decision to opt-out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns, Bentley has gone from a question mark to a definitive statement: Bentley must be ready to take on a major role.

Sure, the Patriots can and probably will bring in a capable veteran starter at linebacker at some point — another Van Noy-esque reclamation project would be ideal, if someone similar can shake loose once teams actually start to practice and assess their rosters.

But they do have some internal options, even if they're not optimal and can't readily fill the shoes of a Hightower, who in many ways was the heart and soul of the defense — at the least in the front seven — and was often its biggest playmaker in clutch moments.

But, ideally, it starts with Bentley locking down the middle linebacker position. He's been in the system for two-plus years and shared the same locker room with experienced vets. The Patriots will need a point man to handle all the calls and checks. It needs to be Bentley.

If that happens, the Patriots have three options internally to fill Hightower's strongside inside linebacker/edge (on passing downs) position: draft picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings, and free agent Brandon Copeland.

A look at each, and their possible roles: