After a slow start to his career, the third-year linebacker had a breakout performance against the Indianapolis Colts, recording three sacks, a mark that was one his career-best for a whole season.
Then after the game, the 2020 second-round pick got some glowing praise from star pass rusher Matthew Judon, who dubbed Uche as “probably the best pass rusher we’ve got” and highlighted him as the player who makes calls defensive signals on third downs. On Monday, Bill Belichick confirmed that the young linebacker has “been doing that for quite a while.”
How does Uche feel about it? He admits “it’s cool,” but doesn’t worry about those types of things. He just wants to earn his teammates’ respect on the field.
But when it comes to Judon, Uche says the veteran has been a huge influence on and off the field.
“That’s my big bro,” Uche said. “We hang out outside of here. He was one of the first guys to actually take me under his wing and show me the ropes of what it’s like to be professional. I know that’s his opinion. But my opinion is he’s like, 10 times – he’s the greatest.”
Right now, Judon is certainly in the argument for the greatest in the NFL right now. The Patriots veteran currently leads the NFL with 11.5 after he and Uche both notched hat tricks in the sack column against the Colts.
But what makes Judon so great? “Everything,” Uche says.
“Just personality his work ethic at practice,” he added. “He’s going hard every single rep and whether it’s chasing the ball 50 yards down the field or going on practice squad just to give a good look to other guys, he’ll do whatever it takes to have the team get better.”
Uche arrived in New England with sky-high potential, showcasing flashes of athleticism that generated optimism that he could be a budding star. But after playing in just 21 games over his first two seasons, Uche looked a bit slow to launch.
During that time, Uche played behind some big names on the depth chart. He says it was a privilege to learn from the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who is back in Foxborough and now has a locker a couple of spots away.
Uche credits the leaders in the Patriots locker room for showing him the ropes on the field and how to be a professional off of it. Now, he’s starting to see his role on the team starting to grow.
Right now, it’s evident as he picks up steam as a pass rusher while handling duties as the signal-caller on third downs. But Uche isn’t the first player to be thrust into an on-field leadership role early in his career. In fact, his position coach is one of the most famous examples of just that.
Before he was a coach, Jerod Mayo emerged as a leader on the Patriots defense in just his second season, quickly taking on duties as the defensive signal-caller.
Uche was quick to praise his position coach as “probably one of the smartest guys I know” and regularly goes to him for off-field advice.
“But when it comes to the football field, he sees the game so different and that allows me to integrate my game and change it up and just gives you a different perspective,” Uche said “Some guys that aren’t on this team probably would never be able to see that perspective because he’s such a unique player, and a unique coach.”
Through nine games, Uche is in the midst of the best season of his career. He’s trending upward as a pass rusher and is starting to get acknowledgment for his part in coordinating the defense — even from his head coach.
“We’ve given him that responsibility, as I said, back in the spring, and he’s really embraced it and worked at it, to the point where I think everybody has a lot of confidence in him doing that,” Belichick said Monday.
The Patriots had a major makeover this past offseason as they moved on from big names like Hightower, Van Noy and (for a while) Collins. Now, Ja’Whaun Bentley is the wily vet in the room while Mack Wilson, Jahlani Tavai and Raekwon McMillan have been in the mix as well.
But as the season goes on, it’s clear that the Patriots have a plan for Uche. For his part, he’s just trying to maintain the standard by those before him.
“I’m simply just trying to carry on the responsibilities those guys kind of paved the way for, just trying to uphold the linebacker legacy as much as I possibly can and just doing my job,” he said.