From a Sophomore Misfit to a Second-Round Pick: Josh Uche Can Fill Big Shoes in New England

A transition from linebacker to defensive end in high school helped shape Josh Uche into the player the New England Patriots drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

There aren't many people that know New England Patriots second-round pick Josh Uche as well as Pete Marti. 

Their relationship started when Uche transferred to Christopher Columbus High School in Miami during the second half of his sophomore year. During spring practices that year, the Columbus High defensive coordinator wasn't sure what to do with Uche, who wasn't standing out as a linebacker during his first couple days with the team. That's when Marti - who was Columbus' defensive line coach at the time - took Uche under his wing. 

Uche transitioned from linebacker to defensive end that year, and that's what helped mold Uche into the player he is today. 

"When I got ahold of him for the first time, I put him in a three-point stance. That's when I knew I had something special to work with," Marti told "I knew that with just a little bit of refinement that he was going to be a big-time Power-5 college football player. But I'm not going to go as far as to say I knew he was going to be a (draft pick) at the time."

The relationship between Coach Marti and Uche has continued to grow over the years. Uche's former defensive line coach helped him with his college decision. He asked Coach Marti to attend his official visit to Michigan with him. Marti has attended his games at Michigan to support the young star. The two also spend time at Marti's house during the offseason, where the two of them get to talk football and Uche has built a relationship with Marti's wife and kids. 

But Marti's coaching of Uche didn't stop in high school. 

To this day, Uche works on his pass-rushing skills with Marti during the offseason. This year specifically, the two of them have been working three days a week - 45 minutes to an hour each of those days - where the two collaborate on different things they feel Uche should be working on to hone his craft. 

"Pass rush is an art in terms of the mindset that you have," Marti said. "You can't necessarily go into it thinking 'Hey, I'm going to do (A,B,C),' obviously you're going to have different matchups on the field, every week you're going to have different offensive linemen that you'll be going up against, they'll all have their strengths and weaknesses. So what Josh and I work on is continuing to be as diverse a pass rusher as possible. We work on a lot of stuff in terms of his speed rush, his vision, his hands, converting speed to power, having some counters, to help him be the most versatile pass rusher possible."

Uche's ability as a pass rusher is one of the reasons New England selected the Michigan product on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. The past two seasons in college Uche earned a 91.7 pass-rushing grade by PFF. In 2019, Uche generated pressure on 23.3% of his pass-rushes and won on 28.2% of those reps, which was second among all FBS edge rushers. The combo of his pass-rushing expertise and overall athletic ability was too hard to pass-up, which is why the Patriots traded back into the second round to acquire him. There are reportedly even some respected evaluators in the league that have dubbed Uche a "second-day star." 

But Uche won't be asked to solely pass rush at the next level. With linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins departing this offseason during free agency, that leaves a lot of snaps available in New England's defense for young guys like Uche and third-round pick Anfernee Jennings to take during their first year in the NFL. Though he did work a bit off-ball in college, Uche did most of his damage as a blitzing linebacker against interior linemen during his time at Michigan. So will he be up for the challenge of not only getting to the quarterback, but also being a versatile asset to New England's defense? Coach Marti definitely thinks so. 

"Josh over the past four years has been really working on his (off-ball) skills," he said. "I know as he was working on those things to prepare for the Senior Bowl, the Combine, things of those nature. I know it's something he hasn't done for a super long time, but if I know Josh, he's going to work on it, and I see no reason why he can't do those types of things that will be asked of him."

Coach Marti also discussed what New England has told Uche how they would like to utilize him on the football field. 

"In some of the early discussions I've had with Josh, he said the Patriots have told him they envision being able to use him kind of all over the place and get him favorable pass-rush matchups, he said. "What I do know is that the Patriots like to give different front presentations, find ways to get their guys one-on-one matchups. I know Coach Belichick is big on getting one-on-one matchups vs. the offensive line by presenting five guys, whether its a Bear look or Mug look, and I think if you get Josh some one-on-one matchups, especially against some of the interior linemen in the league, the guards, the centers, I think Josh can make an immediate impact." 

Overall, Marti - who has been able to help Uche develop his pass-rush repertoire over the past eight years and knows the mentality and work ethic the 21 year old brings to the table - thinks the six-time Super Bowl champions drafted not just a great player, but someone who fits the mold perfectly in terms of how they go about their day-to-day business in New England. 

"You're getting a young man who is a student of the game," Marti said. "This kid loves football. This was a kid that at 15, 16 years old was like 'Hey coach, stay with me after practice for 30 minutes, I want to continue to work on this.' He's going to bring everything that he has, it might sound cliche, but once he gets there he's going to be one of those guys that's the first in the building, last guy out, and he's going to do what it takes to get the job done and help the Patriots win football games."