The Patriots' two first-round draft choices face completely different circumstances in their battle for playing time. Defensive end Chandler Jones steps into a spot vacated by defensive ends Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower joins a linebacker corps that already has the foundation of a solid group for years to come.
Different circumstances, same predicted outcome: both should be starting for the Patriots in Week 1.
The consensus on Jones coming out of the draft was that his raw athleticism would need some time to develop into starting NFL talent.
Here's what I wrote about Jones shortly after the Patriots drafted him:
Being that Chandler Jones is something of a work in progress and that he's learning a new position at outside linebacker, early returns should not be expected...The pressure won't be on Jones to carry the burden for the defense as a rookie; the team brought in Trevor Scott as a free agent, who figures to play largely the same role as Jones. Likewise, the first-round pick figures to develop alongside fellow rookie defensive end Jake Bequette, who is also seen as an "elephant" in the Patriots defense.
Looks like Jones missed the memo. There may not have been pressure on Jones to prove himself as a starter in his rookie season, but he's taking that burden anyway.
As of right now, a week-and-a-half into training camp, there's no reason to think Jones won't be starting Week 1 for the Patriots. He has been running with the first-team defense for the most part in camp, lining up as the right defensive end.
This, despite the presence of several veterans rotating in and out at the other defensive end spot. We've seen Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott and Jermaine Cunningham all get looks at left end, but Jones has been a fixture on the right side.
We turn to Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe for his one-of-a-kind perspective:
[Jones' reps with both the first and second team defense] would indicate the Patriots are trying to cram in as much as possible so Jones will be ready for the season...Jones entered camp much stronger than anticipated (his 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the combine ranked 37th among defensive linemen), and his pass-rush moves are more advanced than your typical early-entry, first-round pick. Jones’s play has dictated that he get, not only a shot at the starting job, but the job for now.
We're less than two weeks into camp, so there's still plenty of time for these situations to change, but early indications are that we shouldn't expect them to.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!