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Next Man Up? Should We Worry About Patriots’ Interior Linebackers In 2022?

New England has a long history of having these great and productive linebackers, priding themselves on establishing this next man up mentality. Going from having MgGinest, Bruschi, Vrabel, Ninkovinch, and Hightower over the past twenty-plus years.

Having uncertainty in this position is a new thing for The Patriots. The 2022 iteration of this group is currently headlined by Ja’Whaun Bentley, who is the longest-tenured player in the room unless they bring back Hightower.

There is a chance they do bring Hightower back but in my opinion, he wouldn’t play the off-ball LB he could be used just as a pass rusher.

Behind Bentley, it’s a couple of guys recovering from major injuries such as Raekwon McMillan and Cameron McGrone, as well as some unproven players like recent addition Mack Wilson. The team is banking on them to step up based on their off-season moves both in the draft and free agency.

With a couple of practice squad guys like Jahlani Tavai and Harvey Langi that we won’t really go into but just wanted to mention them cause they are still on the team

Next Man Up Mentality

Ja’Whaun Bentley

Ja’Whaun is the only player here that I can confidently say will be on the field with consistency. As most of the fan base knows Bentley’s skill set is in the downhill run-stopping game, He is a hammer, but when asked to move sideline to sideline or in the passing game he becomes a liability because of his horizontal speed.

This is also an issue when facing mobile QBs, Bentley needs to learn to adjust after his initial burst, sometimes he misses the play because is over-aggressive, leading to holes on the second level and chunk plays for the opposing team.

Even with his issues in these areas he still has the most playing time of anyone not named Donta Hightower, I still expect Bentley to be on the field in all-run situations. He is easily the team’s safest bet to stay on the field and produce at a decent level like he typically does.

Raekwon McMillan

Raekwon McMillan was a former second-round pick standing at 6’2 weighing about 245 pounds, perhaps one of his best traits pre-injury was his athleticism

McMillan has been a productive player when he is on the field, but the word when is the key to that statement. He was drafted by Miami in 2017 then tore an ACL and missed his entire season. The next year in 2018 he played in every game for The Dolphins and had over 100 tackles.

His play had declined somewhat based on usage and scheme fit with the new regime change. That mixed with the injury history leaves me a bit wary of relying on him in a big role. I love the player and really hope that he can stay healthy cause he is the perfect mix of size and sideline to sideline speed that the front seven is missing.

Mack Wilson

One of the first moves The Patriots made in the 2022 off-season was trading Chase Winovinch for Mack Wilson. This was a rare interior linebacker for an outside linebacker trade. The funniest thing about this is that it actually made a lot of sense for both teams involved.

Now I know what everyone is thinking, what a blockbuster deal right? All jokes aside though Mack Wilson was a very productive player in his first season when he started 14 out of 16 games for the browns he was able to add 82 tackles, 57 solo tackles, seven passes deflected, a forced fumble, and an interception.

Over the course of two years, Cleveland’s defensive scheme changed and he only started eight games in 2020 and six in 2021. Wilson isn’t the best in coverage but he does have more speed to him than most of the linebackers currently on the roster.

Wilson should be able to contribute every down and on special teams, he could turn into a productive player for The Patriots.

Cameron McGrone

This is a player people inside The Patriots organization have been raving about since they “stole” him in the fifth round of last year’s draft. The people in and around the team continue to say that he should’ve been drafted in the early third round if he hadn’t torn his ACL in the 2020 season at Michigan.

He has had a year within the system to learn the playbook inside and out, now when he does get on the field he can hopefully play without thinking too much. What I don’t subscribe to is the idea that since McGrone is returning from injury, he is this additional draft pick that the team gained but he isn’t we used capital to acquire him last off-season knowing full well he wouldn’t be on the field until at least this upcoming season.

I just really hope this kid can play because of how much hype I continue to hear from the organization, I want to see a quick impact once he does finally hit the field.

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Patriots Defensive Philosophy Changing?

I do believe that the team is starting to shift its identity from a heavy four-three scheme, meaning having four down defensive linemen and three off-ball linebackers to a more Dime or Nickel style defensive meaning they are planning to have more defensive backs on the field at a time.

This is why I think they have made the off-season moves they have because they are trying to account for that type of personnel. Just look at the roster construction, they have four ILBs and about 17 defensive backs on the roster right now. They’re going to run a lot more zone and a lot more formation with subs in for the traditional linebacker role.

New England simply is going to be using as many linebackers, which is why they didn’t want to use any high capital to go get one when they believe the guys who are currently on the team can take the stop up and provide what they need at that spot.

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