The Enterprise, Brockton, Mass.


OXBOROUGH, Mass. —  His rookie season wasn’t bad for starters, but the end came far too soon.

Fifth-round draft pick Ja’Whaun Bentley impressed in his first training camp with the Patriots a year ago, went out and registered 13 tackles at linebacker, one interception, a pass defensed and a stop on special teams in the first three regular season games, and then … It was over.

“As a football player, you want to be out on the field,” said Bentley, who was placed on the injured reserve list last Sept. 26, three days after tearing his biceps in the Patriots’ 26-10 loss in Detroit in Week 3. “So not being out on the field you definitely feel some type of way about it, but you’ve just got to find your role, find the next thing.”

Bentley’s “thing” became watching – and while he may not have particularly enjoyed the view, he learned.

“I feel like that’s one of the big ways of learning is observing,” said Bentley. “Watching film or watching how different guys do things. I’m really blessed to have a lot of guys who’ve been playing for many years. You learn from those guys, soaking things up, learning different techniques. It’s just good to have the kind of guys that we have on this team so each guy (is) just learning different things from everybody.”

He’s back now for his second summer in New England, his second training camp with the Patriots, hoping to pick up where he left off far too soon last year.

One summer later, Dont’a Hightower – the Patriots’ elder statesman at linebacker – sees the same Bentley he saw a year ago.

“He’s the same guy, still a sponge, hard working,” said Hightower. “(He’s) one of the main guys. Everybody in that linebacker room is a big communicator, from me to Jamie (Collins) to Kyle(Van Noy) to (Christian) Sam to Bentley to Calvin Munson to Brandon King. Everybody’s able to communicate and talk. I think that’s a big thing. Especially being a linebacker, you’ve got to be able to communicate and Bentley’s definitely one of the guys who loves to watch film and is always doing extra stuff, so I think he’s doing exactly what he did last year.”

Hopes for Bentley are high among his fellow linebackers.

“Step in and play,” Van Noy answered when asked his expectations for the 22-year-old Bentley, who won’t turn 23 until Aug. 24.

“The expectations are high for each player out here, and we expect the same thing from him where he left off at.”

The first three-time captain in the program’s history, Bentley left behind a legacy at Purdue where he registered 272 tackles in 38 games over four seasons.

In his second season in New England, the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder says he feels a comfort level he didn’t feel a year ago.

“Obviously, going from rookie year, coming from college to this year, you’re definitely being around the guys a lot, being around the NFL, period, you get a year under your belt, seeing how things work, seeing how to play different concepts and things like that,” he said.

One of 10 linebackers the team is currently carrying – veterans Hightower, Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Collins (in his second stint with the Patriots) among them – Bentley says he’s focused on trying to carve out a niche for himself, just as he appeared to be doing a year ago.

“Everybody on the team, we’re looking for a role,” said Bentley.

“We have this competition, obviously, but we’re looking to come out here and compete every day, be the best you can, find your role on the team and do it well at the end of the day.”

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