New England linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. Stew Milne/Associated Press

Ja’Whaun Bentley said there’s no secret formula. The Patriots linebacker looks more athletic and is recognizing what’s in front of him quicker. Both of which have made him faster in his fourth NFL season.

“Man, I’ve just been working. One day at a time,” said the 25-year-old who starred at Purdue. “Approaching every day with the same intensity, so I can only credit that to work.’’

Through two games, Bentley leads the Patriots with 11 solo and 13 total tackles. On a team loaded with linebacker additions – Dont’a Hightower is back from opting out, Kyle Van Noy back from Miami and Matt Judon signed as a free agent – Bentley, who has been here all along, has taken a big step.

“Bent has been doing a great job for us. He’s been flying around. He looks like he’s more athletic this year,” Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said. “He really took the offseason seriously and that’s translating to the field. He has a better understanding of the defense. He’s been here for quite some time now. He really understands the front. He understands the total package, not just what he has to do. That’s allowing him to play faster.”

Bentley said Hightower has been helpful to his improved presnap recognition.

“For sure. Dont’a has definitely been a piece to that puzzle, for sure,” Bentley said. “Just watching all the guys play and their thought process and how they break down plays. It’s always pivotal. I’ve learned from him and a lot of other guys on our team also. So, I definitely take that.’’

DONT’A HIGHTOWER trudged into the Gillette Stadium media workroom Wednesday morning and took his familiar place behind the podium.

How was his day going?

“Long,” Hightower deadpanned.

Already?

“Just a long morning,” he answered.

Ten minutes later, the Patriots defensive captain hinted at why his day felt longer than normal. After a year away from the NFL, team meetings are starting to wear on him.

“Getting back to these meetings,” Hightower said, when asked what the most difficult part of returning to football has been. “In all honesty, that’s probably the big takeaway from having a lot of liberation (in 2020) and kind of going about how I wanted to, and then just a lot of meetings. That is no lie. The meetings is the worst part of coming back to football. Not camp, not running, just the meetings. Getting back used to that.”

Hightower admitted he’s still rebuilding his confidence after opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 31-year-old showed significant improvement during last Sunday’s 25-6 win at the Jets after a lackluster performance in the team’s season opener. He finished with six tackles and a quarterback hit, taking more snaps at outside linebacker than inside linebacker.

“I’ve played a lot of football, but it’s just different being on the field and getting those reps. Just like physical endurance … football shape is different,” he said.

TOM BRADY SR. says he feels a sense of vindication for his son, given what’s transpired since the Patriots quarterback left and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.

“Damn right,” (I feel vindication), Brady Sr. said during an appearance on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast. “(Bill) Belichick wanted him out the door. And last year he threw 56 touchdowns. I think that’s a pretty good year.”

Curran then asked if his son felt the same way.

“Damn right,” he said. “Damn right.”

It’s a little more than a week before Brady’s return to Foxborough as quarterback of the Buccaneers, and his father threw out a few haymakers. But Brady Sr. also voiced appreciation for his son’s time in New England, which spanned two decades and six Super Bowl championships.

“My feeling is Tommy is extraordinarily appreciative of everything that happened during his New England career, and he’s more than happy that he’s moved on, because it was pretty obvious that the Patriots regime felt it was time for him to move on,” said Brady Sr. “And, frankly, it may have well have been perfect for Belichick to move on. On the other hand, I think the Tampa Bay Bucs are pretty happy that the decision was made in Foxborough that they didn’t want to afford him, or didn’t want to keep him when his last contract came up.”

PRACTICE REPORT: Kyle Van Noy returned to practice Wednesday after the linebacker missed the last week with a throat injury.

Van Noy gave the Pats perfect attendance for their 53-man roster. Right tackle Trent Brown participated in his second straight practice, though he missed last Sunday’s game at the Jets. Brown moved well, seemingly recovered from the calf injury he suffered in the team’s season opener.

LINEMAN SIGNED: The Patriots signed free-agent offensive guard Jake Eldrenkamp to their practice squad Wednesday, according to reports.

Eldrenkamp, 27, spent most of last season on the Colts’ practice squad. He appeared in two games for Indianapolis, but did not start and was later waived him in August. Prior to signing in Indy, Eldrenkamp spent the spring of 2019 in New England, where he lasted just four months.

Before joining the Patriots, he was a member of the Browns and Rams practice squads over three seasons. Eldrenkamp entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in 2017 and didn’t see any game action until last year.

He wore No. 62 during Wednesday’s practice in Foxborough.


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