New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t always say what he means. But he seemed to do just that when discussing a pair of young Patriots defenders during a press conference on Wednesday.
Uche, a 2020 second-round pick, took on a substantial role in Week 16 with the Patriots making Ja’Whaun Bentley inactive due to an injury. Uche played 31 snaps on defense (43%). It was the second-highest total of his rookie season, only lower than his 36 snaps (60%) in Week 13.
“He’s done a lot of positive things for us in the kicking game and defensively. Has some versatility,” Belichick told reporters Wednesday. “We were kind of trying to figure that out early — what his best spot would be. And it took a little while for all that to materialize. … He’s definitely going to help us. He’s a good football player. We’ll be able to define his role and his situation next year.”
It’s a good sign for what’s to come for Uche, whose role is likely to grow in 2021 after the Patriots drafted him in the second round in 2020. It seems the Patriots are encouraged with what they’ve seen from him as they prepare for next season. Though Uche spent time on injured reserve this year, he has nine tackles, one sack and seven quarterback hits in nine games.
But then there was Belichick’s quote about Williams.
“Joejuan’s role will be determined with Joejuan, just like it will with every player,” Belichick said. “He has a lot of things going for him. He’s established a pretty solid role in the kicking game, and defensively, he’s shown the ability to do some things both inside and outside. … He held his own, and showed that he has a solid role for this team. Whether that role increases or decreases will really be determined by him.”
Williams has been buried on the depth chart beneath cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones for the last two years. That group has been one of the deepest cornerback units in the NFL since the Patriots drafted Williams in the second round in 2019. Even so, Belichick put the onus of Williams’ trajectory in the hands of the young defensive back. It was a less encouraging testament to Williams’ development and his career path for the coming year.