Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny working hard to get back into lineup

May 27, 2017

FOXBORO — The red, no-contact jersey on Jonathan Freeny at Thursday’s organized team activity served as a reminder how far the Patriots linebacker needs to go before he’s where he wants to be.

For now, just being on the field, even if it’s on the one behind Gillette Stadium and not inside it, is encouraging.

“It just feels good to be back out there, getting back into football, working with my teammates,” Freeny said. “Just trying to work every day to get better, work on my craft.”

Last year, the linebacker battled a shoulder injury in the summer and started four of the first five games before being put on injured reserve. His loss, coupled with the trade that sent Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns, hurt the linebacker depth, which was saved in large part by the emergence of rookie Elandon Roberts and midseason acquisition Kyle Van Noy.

They are still in the mix, along with stalwart Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin. The Patriots added undrafted rookie Harvey Langi, to whom they gave a hefty $100,000 base salary and $15,000 signing bonus, an indication they have hopes he can break into the rotation.

But while this unit admirably stepped up after Collins’ departure, it still probably sits as the weakest link on an otherwise loaded defense. Improvement from the non-Hightower contingent, particularly in pass coverage, is paramount.

That’s where Freeny comes in. He has confidence that the group can get to where it needs to be.

“We’re just getting into it,” he said. “We have rookies. We have older guys, but we’re all just working here. Everybody’s working hard. The guys I’m with, they’re hard workers and competitors. I’m the same way. So just being out here and seeing those guys compete as hard as myself has been great.”

Freeny said his shoulder feels good. It won’t be fully tested until the pads come on, but Freeny is making the most of what he can.

“The value is just getting out here and working on my craft, anything I can do to get better,” he said. “It’s like they say, it’s the little things that count, so any little thing I can work on to help my game, that’s the value of these practices, whether it’s technique or anything else.”

And the Pats value his presence. As the second-longest tenured linebacker on the roster, his experience can only help. He doesn’t see himself as an elder statesman, though.

“I haven’t even really thought that far ahead, really,” Freeny said. “These guys, they’ve really got a good grasp of our defense and when we’re out there, they’ve been doing their job just like I’ve been trying to do. So I wouldn’t say that I would consider myself higher or lower than them.

“We’re just pretty much on the same, equal playing field.”