Today we’re breaking down one of the most interesting positional groups on the roster this year, the linebackers.
After Jamie Collins‘ shocking trade last season, the Pats had to manage with in-season acquisition Kyle Van Noy, run stopping rookie Elandon Roberts and free agent acquisition Shea McClellin. After Dont’a Hightower, there just wasn’t a three-down linebacker on the roster.
So Van Noy slipped into a passing down role, where he would cover and occasionally rush the quarterback, while Roberts caught attention for his heavy downhill hits in an early down role. It wasn’t as ideal as the Hightower-Collins duo seemed to be, since they never had to leave the field (at least that’s what we thought in 2014 and 2015), but they got the job done.
While heavy reinforcements didn’t arrive this offseason, the addition of David Harris should take enough pressure off of Hightower to help keep him fresh or keep the boat afloat should the captain miss any time. How the rest of the group plays out will be fascinating to watch in camp.
How much of a second-year jump does Roberts make? Will Belichick-favorite Jonathan Freeny step back into a defensive role despite Roberts’ emergence? Can coveted rookie Harvey Langi show enough versatility to carve out a rookie role? Is McClellin on the bubble?
It’s important to note how fluid the edge and linebacker positions have become. Technically Hightower, Ninkovich and McClellan shift between those roles based on the situation, but for the preview purposes we’ll keep them separated. Just know that nothing is set in stone and the ability to move players all over the formation is what makes the Patriots’ defensive front so potent. Just try not to get caught up in the minutiae of positional labels at this point.
Let’s take a closer look at each linebacker.