By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Ja'Whaun Bentley may only have 19 NFL games under his belt, but you wouldn't know it listening to him talk.
With Dont'a Hightower opting out of the 2020 season, Bentley is now the longest-tenured Patriots linebacker. The other players at the position include 2020 free agent signee Brandon Copeland, 2019 signee and primary special teamer Shilique Calhoun, and five other players who combine for a grand total of zero NFL snaps.
Does that make the 23-year-old Bentley the de facto leader of the group as training camp begins? According to Bentley, it's not his decision.
"I’m a big advocate for not forcing a leadership role," Bentley told reporters on Wednesday. "Leadership finds you, and you react with that. Never force a leadership position, let it happen."
If and when Bentley does become the leader of that group, he sounds well prepared. He was a three-time captain at Purdue, and spent the last two seasons learning under some of the best, namely Dont'a Hightower.
"We [he and Hightower] are always talking," the 2018 fifth-round pick says. "He’s definitely on my list of people I talk to, whether it be about leadership or anything. Along with him, we’ve got 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 different things you can bring to your game, and that’s been my approach since day one, whether that be college or the NFL."
Now, with Hightower out and a massive rookie class coming in, the roles are reversed.
"My two years, I’ve also had vets help me out. So what kind of person would I be to not help [this year’s rookies] out as well?...Helping those guys along any way I can is definitely a great thing for me to do and me to continue doing. And we have a lot of smart rookies too, so that’s always a plus.”
The Patriots invested heavily in the linebacker position in this year's draft, taking Michigan product Josh Uche in the second round and Anfernee Jennings out of Alabama in the third. They also added Wyoming's Cassh Maluia in the sixth round, and made Arkansas' De'Jon Harris one of their highest-paid UDFAs.
How will that group come together with Bentley now acting as the veteran, if not the leader? We'll get a good look when the team begins practicing in front of media next week.