When Patriots linebacker Ja'whaun Bentley spoke to reporters in June, he was talking about moving his game to the “next level” in the wake of the departures of players like Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy in free agency.
The need for Bentley to move forward has only gotten bigger. Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out has taken another experienced member of the defense out of the picture and that leaves Bentley as the longest-tenured member of the team’s linebacking corps.
A leadership role is a somewhat unusual spot for a third-year player to find himself in, but it is one that inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo thinks he’s going to be able handle well this season.
“You lose guys like Hightower and Kyle, . . . Elandon, . . . now Bentley is really the guy as far as mentoring the younger players,” Mayo said, via Tom Curran of NBCSportsBoston.com. “I think he’s done a great job up until this point as far as his leadership ability, taking control of the huddle and all those things. I look forward to continue seeing that growth going forward. Obviously, we don’t have on pads right now. It’s not 100 degrees out there on a summer day, you’re out there tired and all that stuff. But I look forward to seeing that development continue under strenuous situations. But just his role as far as the communicator at the second level and also just his mentorship role with the younger guys.”
Mayo is also confident Bentley will handle the on-field aspects of the job — “physically, this guy is gifted” — and step up to be the kind of leading light the Patriots need on a defense that’s gone through a lot of changes.