Patriots sixth-round draft pick Christian Sam, a linebacker out of Arizona State, talks with the media at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. AP PHOTO
Patriots sixth-round draft pick Christian Sam, a linebacker out of Arizona State, talks with the media at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. AP PHOTO

FOXBORO -- The Patriots had multiple problem areas to address during the offseason with respect to their defense.

Based on some of their moves, stopping the run was a top priority.

Looking at the teams and runners they'll face during the 2018 season, and how they fared last season against some of the better rushing offenses, it makes sense.

They were the 20th worst team in the NFL at stuffing the run in 2017, allowing teams 114.8 yards on the ground per game (4.7 yards per carry).

This season, they're going to play many of the top rushing teams in the league such as Jacksonville, Buffalo, Minnesota, Kansas City and Tennessee. So it behooved them to add some bodies that would help shut down the run.

Up front, they made the trade with Cleveland for defensive lineman Danny Shelton to shore up the defensive line, and in the draft, they added a pair of linebackers who should add depth to the rotation.

They selected Purdue linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley with the 143rd overall pick in the fifth round, and Arizona State linebacker Christian Sam with the 178th overall pick in the sixth round.

Sure, there was the belief the Patriots' top need was the addition of a coverage linebacker, someone who could adequately mark running backs coming out of the backfield as opposed to a pair of run stoppers. But with every defense, the rule is always stopping the run first. If you make teams one-dimensional, playing defense gets much easier.


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Bentley, who described himself as a "thumper" and a "physical football player" after being drafted by the Patriots last month, fits the part. Both he and Sam met the media Tuesday at Gillette Stadium, and judging by Bentley's appearance, wasn't kidding about the thumper part. He's built like a tank.

It's easy to see why he has the reputation as an old-school middle linebacker.

Asked if that was assessment accurate, Bentley, who racked up a career-best 97 total tackles (11.

Ja’whaun Bentley
Ja'whaun Bentley
5 for loss) his senior season, said he wasn't into labels.

"I'm just excited to come out here and do what I gotta do to help the team," he said.

He told the media he took pride in the contact part of the game. He prepares for it.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt about that. He broke his high school's bench press record (21 reps at 225 pounds) as a junior. He did 31 reps at his pro day at Purdue.

He could challenge Elandon Roberts, their primary run stuffer at linebacker, or simply add to the depth at the position.

Bentley, a three-time captain, said he was just happy for the opportunity.

"It's an opportunity for me to join something special," said Bentley, "just come out here and find a role, and be the best player I can be."

Then there's Sam, who's a bit more versatile given he does have some coverage skills. He was however, very good against the run in college. During this past season with the Sun Devils, which qualified as a redshirt junior year, he posted a career-high 127 tackles, 9.5 for loss.

At this point, like Bentley, he's just trying to fit in.

"We're just working hard, and trying to find our place," said Sam. "I'm getting acclimated to the system, doing what I'm told by the coaches, and making sure I'm doing everything at a high level ... taking care of business."

Both Bentley and Sam didn't want to speak out of turn. They're here trying to learn the system and earn jobs, and hopefull impress the coaching staff enough to stick come September.

Looking at the depth chart, they're in competition with Roberts, Nicholas Grigsby and Harvey Langi as the likely backups to Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers.

But they were drafted for a reason.

If Bentley and Sam do what they did well in college, they'll help in an area the Patriots had trouble last year. And, with Kansas City's Kareem Hunt, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, Buffalo's LeSean McCoy, Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette, Chicago's Jordan Howard, Tennessee's Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis all on the schedule, stuffing the run is going to be a priority.