Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings will be the first to tell you he hasn't had an ideal start to his NFL career.
The 2020 third-round pick had an up-and-down rookie season during the ill-fated COVID year in which New England went just 7-9, managing just four starts despite a fairly open linebacker room.
Then, Jennings landed on injured reserve before the 2021 season began, never touching the field.
Now, he's out to prove he's more than what he's shown to his point in his career.
"The 2020 season didn't define me, didn't define my playing ability," he told the "1st and Foxborough" podcast after Wednesday's practice, saying he didn't want to complain about the "unfortunate" start to his career. "I just continue to get better regardless of what anyone may think. I always stay working and now just finally get an opportunity to be healthy and come out here and contribute. That's all I was looking forward to."
Jennings has quietly made the most of his increased chances with the Patriots, working his way into starting snaps as an edge defender opposite Matthew Judon with his stout play against the run.
He's also gotten snaps as an off-ball linebacker, a position that needs some help. On Tuesday and Wednesday against the Panthers, the third-year linebacker could be seen knifing into the backfield for run stuffs and blowing up screen passes from an off-the-ball spot after racking up a number of pressures and solid plays on the edge in last Thursday's preseason game.
"I pride myself on being able to be versatile and do a lot of different things…and being a smart football player," he said of his making an impact at multiple positions. "I'm eager to learn something new every day and continue to get better. It shows."
Though 2020 second-round pick Josh Uche has a bit more flash and explosive potential as a pass-rusher, Jennings has apparently solidified himself as a rotational player on the edge along with Deatrich Wise Jr., who has played both as a defensive tackle and outside linebacker.
Assuming he plays in the second and third preseason games of the season, the former Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker will have even more chances to impress.
"Just continue to execute the game plan, make sure I'm sharp on my fundamentals, and make sure our chemistry as a team and our communication is clean. Just have confidence," Jennings said of his goals for the rest of training camp.
That approach has helped Jennings turn himself from a roster bubble candidate to a probable starter in just a few weeks.