By: Jake Mackey
For the past three seasons the New England Patriots have had one of the top linebacking cores in the entire National Football League, lead by Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, when the two are healthy. The same should go for this upcoming season. Here is a preview of the team’s linebackers.
Jamie Collins: The freak athlete is heading into the final-year of his rookie contract and certainly does not need to prove anything else to show that he is worthy of a major contract. His ability to get in the backfield and flip a switch and drop back into coverage is something that many teams would value greatly. The only concern I have about Collins is his ability to perform in big games. In the 2014 divisional round against Baltimore, Collins looked as if he were on roller skates when defending Justin Forsett. In addition, in last year’s AFC Championship, Collins blew simple one-on-one coverages against Owen Daniels on third and goal that were pivotal scores in the game.
GIF Credit: SBNation.com)
(GIF Credit: SBNation.com)
Dont’a Hightower: The success of the Patriots defense in 2015 was determined on whether or not Dont’a Hightower was on the field. He played in 12-games last season, and when he was not on the field his absence was quite notable. When he was injured early in a week 12 contest in Denver, CJ Anderson ran for 113-yards. He is the core of the defense, and is in best position when his counterpart Jamie Collins is healthy.
Shea McClellin: The Patriots were in desperate need of a third-linebacker last season while injuries derailed their starters. Shea McClellin could be that player that fills the void they have had a third linebacker. He can play on the outside as a stand up defensive end but also on the inside as a linebacker. He was a disappointment as a first-round draft pick in Chicago. This will just have to be another instance where Bill Belichick revitalizes another player’s career.
Jonathan Freeny: The veteran special teams player saw a lot of action on the defensive side of the ball in 2015, much to the dismay of Patriots fans. He struggled greatly in coverage and simply could not keep up with running backs and tight ends. I do not expect much else in 2016 with another year of age on Freeny’s legs. His role is best served on special teams as a veteran presence.
Kamu Grugier-Hill: Certainly an interesting player to keep an eye throughout August. The 208th pick of this April’s draft out of Eastern Illinois stands at 6-2, 215 pounds and looks to be somewhat of a linebacker safety hybrid. Of course, in Foxborough that means special teams player. At least for the first season.
Elandon Roberts: This is a player that I am intrigued to see on the practice fields and in preseason games, for one reason: He seeks out contact. At 6-0, 235 pounds he is very small for a linebacker and perfect for the role of a kickoff and punt specialist who sprints down the field and tries to take heads off. I would expect the sixth-round Houston product to make the squad.