Ja'Whaun Bentley Ready to Step Up Amid Turmoil at Linebacker
With a league-high eight opt outs to deal with, the New England Patriots will surely be relying on some of their younger talent moving forward.
One of the players that will be playing a larger role in 2020 for them is third-year linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. Now that Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower has opted out of the season, Bentley is going to see a spike in playing time.
"Obviously you have to respect the decision that Hightower made, but none the less we have to try and come in here and work," Bentley said Wednesday during a video conference with the media. "Our guys have to try and figure out their roles and we have to keep pushing forward."
Bentley's rookie season took a turn for the worst after a strong preseason and beginning to the regular season. He was placed on injured reserve in early October and would not return for the rest of the season. As for 2019, he had a limited role; he played a total of 275 snaps on defense, which was good for 27% of the team's total snaps on the defensive side of the football. But that was with Hightower and Elandon Roberts - who departed during free agency this offseason - on the roster.
Even though he won't have the luxury of having Hightower by his side in 2020, Bentley said he still keeps in regular contact with the veteran linebacker and will continue to pick his brain during this unusual season to help him work through taking on an expanded role.
"We're always talking," Bentley said. "[Dont'a Hightower's] definitely on my list of people to talk to whether it's about leadership or anything. So along with him we have a lot of great vets that I've been surrounded with over my past two years since I've been with New England. So you're always picking those guys brains, seeing what things you can bring to your game and that's been my approach since day one."
This is a big year for Bentley. He will enter the 2021 season on the final year of his contract, and Hightower, if he does return to football next year, will enter the season at 31 years of age. Because of that, if Bentley is able to prove he can be a reliable early-down linebacker this upcoming season, he could potentially earn himself an extension next offseason from the six-time Super Bowl champions. That would be a great feat for a former fifth-round draft pick.