Much has been said about the Patriots’ improved offense, but the defense should also be significantly better than 2020, particularly in the front-seven. That much was evident in the performance of some key young talents in the first 1-on-1 padded drills of 2021 training camp.
One of the annual highlights of padded practice, these drills feature offensive and defensive linemen crashing into each other 1-on-1 in the trenches, while the quarterbacks and pass-catchers get to work on the other field. In terms of “wins” and “losses,” it tends to favor the offense, since a “tie” should go the O-lineman.
With that in mind, three particular defensive players – two of which weren’t even here in 2020 – stood out among the rest in these drills: linebackers Josh Uche and Matt Judon, and rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore.
Uche grabbed decisive wins as he sped around tackles Korey Cunningham and Yodny Cajuste. It’s no small feat, since both tackles have a legitimate chance to make the 53-man roster as reserves. Uche blatantly displayed in these sessions that he’s been working on his pass-rush moves in the offseason.
“I’m the hardest critic on myself, so I’m always just looking at slight tweaks I could make to my game, whether it’s this technique, whether it’s this stance, or whatever,” Uche said Monday. “I’m just constantly on it. Even if it’s good, there’s always room to be better.”
Barmore and Judon are known more for their pure power and athleticism than finesse, but were no less dominant during 1-on-1 drills. Judon overpowered Cunningham by himself on one rep. Barmore won all five of his reps, according to Jeff Howe.
Unfortunately, Barmore appeared to injure his lower leg area later in practice. He got wrapped up and didn’t have to leave, but he showed a noticeable limp. That’s something to monitor going forward.
But the rookie certainly showed why he entered the 2021 draft as the best defensive tackle prospect in the class. If everything goes right for him, he has a chance to be a high-end disruptor on the Patriots’ defensive interior, against both the run and the pass.
Judon, who signed for four years and $32 million guaranteed in March, projects as a starter on the edge and should deliver Pro Bowl-caliber play. Uche is making a strong case to start in 3-4 looks as well, but the depth chart is crowded with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy back in the fold, and Ja’Whaun Bentley looking like he’s going to stick around as a “Mike” linebacker.
Tuesday was just one day, and the strong defensive performances mainly came against backups (Shaq Mason and David Andrews stood out among offensive starters in 1-on-1s). There’s still a long way to go from here, as Bill Belichick would say. But so far, so good for the Patriots’ most promising new defensive talents.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.