It was a trying rookie season for Josh Uche, who started and ended the season on Injured Reserve, but in between Uche flashed the kind of potential that had ESPN naming him a potential breakout player in 2021. With a limited sample size after playing just 178 defensive snaps in nine games, Uche still came in as Pro Football Focus' second-ranked rookie edge defender behind Chase Young, leaving fans and pundits to wonder what Uche might do with a full season of playing time.
"He's going to be great, man," said veteran free-agent addition Matthew Judon last week. "He's a sponge. He's soaking up so much knowledge and he can play any position, anywhere in the front 7, might not want him on the nose. … I love jelling with Uche."
Through the first five practices of training camp, Uche has been active, showing versatility and the kind of non-stop motor that he brought with him when he arrived last year out of Michigan.
"I feel like I put in a lot of extra time in the offseason, getting in my playbook and just watching some old film and going over corrections and mistakes I might've made last year," said Uche on Monday. "Just continuing to improve in my free time. Extra preparation has helped prepare me for camp. I have a steady understanding of the foundation of the defense and I'd say it's been a great transition."
With the challenging 2020 season now behind him, Uche seems ready to put the lessons he learned into action.
"It's all about adaption," said Uche. "Just being able to adapt, roll with the punches and figure out what avenue would best suit me and the best way to go about things."
After a promising start to camp, Uche pointed out the whole team was ready to finally get into pads, smiling.
"What's football without contact?" he asked with a smile.
Rookies making progress
Rookies Christian Barmore and Rhamondre Stevenson met with the media for the first time following Monday's practice session. Barmore has been a fixture since camp opened, with Stevenson missing just the initial few practices after starting on the NFI list.
"It's going good, real good," said Barmore. "Learning, focusing, getting better every day."
Despite making a number of moves along the defensive line in free agency, it didn't stop the Patriots from making their only trade-up of the draft to acquire Barmore in the second round.
"Christian's a very talented player," said Bill Belichick prior to the session. "Just got a lot of physical skills. Size, strength, quickness, so forth. Obviously been in a good program. Been well-coached. Some of the things we're doing are similar to what he's done. There are some things that are a little bit different, but he's made a lot of progress, but we'll see how that goes when the pads come on and when the real bullets start flying."
Stevenson has been immediately integrated since re-joining the team and has shown no noticeable effects from whatever sidelined him for the early days of camp.
"Just trying to learn how to be pro still, it's been good, what I've expected," said Stevenson. "All the running backs are helping me, teaching me the ropes and teaching me how to be a running back for the New England Patriots.
"I feel like I still got a ton to learn in every phase of the game."
Quotes of Note
Jalen Mills on Coach Belichick:
"I think it starts first just with his mindset, whether he's walking in the meeting room, out here on the field or even in the cafeteria you know h expects the best out of everybody. When you have a coach like that who is demanding you have no choice but to come out here and put the work in."
Raekwon McMillan on what it's like to be Patriot now:
"The Patriots were the best executing teams in the league. We barely make false starts, we don't go offsides on defense, it happens once every blue moon, but we're real disciplined. Now that I'm here I see why because it's practiced on a daily basis, it's stuff we go over all the time."
Brandon Bolden on the pads coming on for Tuesday's session:
"What you see is what you're going to get. I'm expecting everyone to be themselves. I haven't hit anyone in a year. It's going to be fun. I truly believe it's going to be a great day tomorrow."