In just two seasons in New England, Ja’Whaun Bentley has already experienced plenty.
As a fifth-round pick out of Purdue in 2018, Bentley showed immense promise to the point that he started two of the first three games of his rookie season before landing on injured reserve with a reported torn biceps.
Last fall, back to full health, Bentley was a bit buried on New England’s impressive veteran linebacker depth chart that included Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts. As such Bentley saw action in less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps, starting two of 16 games played while recording 39 tackles.
Now, though, with Van Noy, Collins and Roberts having moved on via free agency this offseason, Bentley certainly could be leaned on in a more significant way for the 2020 Patriots defense.
“I would say this year is just like every year,” Bentley declared during a Wednesday WebEx call with the local New England media. “Just looking to find your role. Each guy has a role to play. We stress that a whole lot as an organization, finding a role and sticking with it. So whatever that role may be this year, I’m gonna look to again progress as well as find as many opportunities that the team needs to be filled.”
Van Noy and Collins played more of an edge role than Bentley might be most naturally suited for, but they also both ate up more than 80 percent defensive snaps a year ago. Perceived as more of an inside linebacker based on his past experiences, including college, Bentley sounds rather open to any playing time in any spot that Bill Belichick and his assistant coaches might throw his way.
“This is becoming kind of a cliché answer, but whatever the team needs I’m looking to do,” Bentley said. “So whether that is on the ball or off the ball, whatever I’m asked to do as far as our game plan and things like that, that’s what I’ll do.”
Though still relatively young and inexperienced himself, the former Purdue captain does feel like he’s evolved into a veteran-like role behind the linebacker leader Hightower in New England.
“Obviously knowledge, knowledge of the game,” Bentley said when asked how he’s grown the last couple years as a pro. “Being able to be on the field and direct traffic a little bit more. Coming from college to the pros you surround yourself with great veterans which we have in our organization so it was a huge opportunity to learn from those guys and implement what you can learn and add it to your game. So I feel like Year 1 to Year 2, took some good steps. Year 3 you also want to take those same progressive steps and take your game to the next level.”
With the veteran departures and starting jobs alongside Hightower very much up for grabs at linebacker, Bentley will be expected to do just that in 2020.