In the lead-up to training camp, we're inspecting the Patriots roster position by position. Today, an examination of the linebackers and edge players.
Locks: Dont'a Hightower; Ja'Whaun Bentley; John Simon; Chase Winovich; Josh Uche; Anfernee Jennings
Bubble: Brandon Copeland; Shilique Calhoun; Derek Rivers; Cassh Mailua
In the Mix: Tashaun Bower; Terez Hall; Kyahva Tezino; De'Jon Harris
ANALYSIS: After the departures of three linebacker/edge players, this position group will have a new look this season. The one constant that remains is Dont'a Hightower, who can play multiple roles within the defense and is the tone-setter up front. Next to him, Ja'whaun Bentley will have the opportunity to expand his role in his third season. Bentley is primarily an off-the-ball inside linebacker but could have some three-down potential depending on his development. He played 27 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019.
A third inside linebacker role will be there for the taking and draft pick Cassh Mailua is the early favorite for a run-stopping, special teams role, though undrafted rookies De'Jon Harris and Kyahva Tezino have similar skillsets and will be in the mix.
On the edges of the defense, John Simon figures will be heavily counted on after playing almost half the defensive snaps in 2019. Simon can play along the line or standing up and emerged as one of the most solid defenders on the Patriots last season. Veteran free agent Brandon Copeland has intriguing versatility as well and could find himself in an expanded role all around the second level of the defense.
Chase Winovich had a solid rookie season and will be counted on for his pass-rushing skills, while rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings bring a much-needed injection of youth to this group. Jennings has early-down toughness and figures to compete with Simon and Copeland for early-down duties, while Uche is already prepared to make an impact as a pass rusher with an impressive get-off and ability to get around offensive tackles.
Shilique Calhoun re-signed with the Pats after spending 2019 as a sub pass rusher, while Tashaun Bower and Terez Hall spent last season on New England's practice squad. Derek Rivers will try to bounce back from another knee injury as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
This won't be the Hightower-Collins-Van Noy group that dominated 2019, instead it's likely to be a down-specialized squad with the hope that three-down players emerge. There's enough run stoppers and pass rushers to get the job done even it's done in piecemeal.