BOSTON -- Kyle Van Noy is gone. So is Jamie Collins. Dont'a Hightower remains unsigned and appears to be halfway to retirement. The Patriots' linebacking corps has obviously undergone a massive change.
And while there's been a bit of buzz surrounding the potential of Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson, head coach Bill Belichick is feeling a bit optimistic about a much lesser-known linebacker in Jahlani Tavai.
ESPN's Mike Reiss caught Belichick's interview on Sirius XM on Monday, and Belichick seemed to have high hopes for Tavai in the Patriots' defense while also expressing confidence in the talent at the linebacker level.
Belichick said he expects Tavai to be a "big factor."
The 25-year-old Tavai was with the Patriots last year, but he took just 56 defensive snaps -- 5.2 percent of the team's defensive plays. He saw the field primarily on special teams, as he took 44.4 percent of the Patriots' special teams snaps.
Yet while Tavai is largely unknown in New England, he's very well-known to Matt Patricia, who was with the Lions when they drafted Tavai out of Hawaii in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2019 draft. Tavai had a productive rookie season in 2019, recording 58 total tackles with an interception, a forced fumble, and two sacks while playing in 15 games and starting six of them. He tapered off a bit in year two, recording the same number of tackles (58) without getting to the quarterback or intercepting any passes.
Patricia was fired in Detroit in 2020 and rejoined the Patriots last year in an advisor role. He likely played a role in the Patriots signing Tavai after the Lions released him at the end of training camp, and now Tavai finds himself with a prime opportunity for playing time in the middle of the Patriots' defense.
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