The Patriots linebacker group is expected to have a refreshed look this season and we got our first early glimpse of how things are starting to come together during Monday's open practice session.
Four-year vet Raekwon McMillan was in the thick of it, as he was last summer before going down with a knee injury. Now fully healthy and back in the mix, McMillan sees a young position group finding their way after learning behind so many championship-caliber linebackers a year ago.
"We've got a lot of young guys, a lot of good chemistry," said McMillan following practice. "A lot of the old veteran guys that had a lot of Super Bowl runs, playoff runs, you name it, those guys did a lot for this team and for this organization, but we got a young group coming up and I like where we're at."
One of those young players is 2021 fifth-round pick Cameron McGrone, who had his own knee injury during his final college season at Michigan, an injury that kept him sidelined for his entire rookie season, though he did return and get a couple of weeks of practice in before the end of the season.
"It definitely helped a lot you know, spending all that time in the room with the older guys, watching film, just learning there, then to be able to put it on the field just for a couple of weeks towards the end season was really good for me to get my feet back and get my feet wet and just get into it." said McGrone of the late-season practices he participated in. "So now, coming in with that knowledge, I'm just really excited."
Earlier in the offseason, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said he was also excited by the new young players in his room and that they'd be attacking the process together, along with outside linebacker coach Steve Belichick. The two veteran defensive coaches have largely a fresh slate to work with at their position groups.
"Jerod, he's a crazy dude, walks in with good energy every day," said McMillan. "He comes in with energy, gets you going in the morning. Steve's kind of the cerebral guy, sits in the back but always has his comments and two cents of how you can make plays within this defense because he's sat and watched it for so long. Both of the guys give you good information on ways you can make plays. So hopefully I can make a little bit this year."
The way McGrone hopes to make those kinds of plays is with his speed, which he called his biggest strength even as he returns from injury.
"I definitely believe my strong suit is speed. I think anywhere the ball is on the field I can get there," said McGrone. "Last year, I was able to watch a lot of film, hear a lot of knowledge from older guys and the main thing was really kind of knowing what was coming before it comes, so that knowledge, knowing your opponent. Once you're able to anticipate you can play as fast as you want."
With plenty of OTA sessions, minicamp and then training camp still to come, there's plenty of time for the new-look linebacker group to come together. For now, they're laying the foundation that they hope pays off at the most important time of year.
"We just started, we're building toward some special during the season," said McMillan. "Our finished product won't be here until the end of the season. Hopefully, we'll find our best football in January, February. But right now, we're just getting going as a defense and hopefully, we can bring it together."