Rivers standing up to challenges of first Patriots camp


Rivers standing up to challenges of first Patriots camp

FOXBORO -- Keeping track of Derek Rivers' whereabouts was no easy task on Tuesday. He was used all over the Patriots front-seven, typically in a two-point stance.

In college, Rivers was seldom moved off of his spot as a left defensive end. He could be found consistently facing off with right tackles, bursting out of a three-point or four-point stance time and again during his senior season.


What the rookie third-rounder has been trying to do in New England -- learn how to play standing up, understand how to take on multiple spots in Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's scheme -- during his first professional training camp has had him feeling like he's back in Ohio trying to figure out what's what.

"It definitely feels like my freshman year at Youngstown State," Rivers said with a laugh following Tuesday's practice. "I will say that."

He added: "I'm standing up a lot more than I have in the past. But I'm definitely comfortable. It's cool. It's really fun playing different positions and running different roles on the team. That's all that matters."

Rivers (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) was named a third-team AP FCS All-American last year with 19.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, as a left defensive end. It just so happens the Patriots are looking for someone to fill that spot for their defense now that Rob Ninkovich has retired.

It could end up as Dont'a Hightower's gig, whenever he returns to the field. Lately, undrafted rookie Harvey Langi has been given a shot. Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy could also factor into the mix there.

Rivers seems to have an outside shot at playing as a versatile option on that side of the Patriots defense if he can continue to absorb all that's being thrown at him. But in the Patriots defense, he'll have to cover backs from that left side. And he may be asked to play as an off-the-line linebacker. And he may bump inside to stand over guards and centers to use his 33-inch arms to pass-rush against stumpier blockers.

He has the athleticism to do all of those things. Rivers ran a 4.61 40-yard dash at this year's combine, which was among the best times for any end in this year's class. He also jumped 35 inches in the vertical, indicating he has good explosiveness. And he ran a 6.94-second three-cone drill, which was proof his impressive change-of-direction and his ability to bend while maintaining speed.

So far, when asked to play tall, he's enjoyed it.

"As a d-lineman, every defensive lineman loves when they get to stand up," he said. "Some of my guys back at Youngstown, we had one practice when our defensive tackle got his first chance to stand up, and he couldn't wait. Any time as a defensive lineman you get a chance to stand up and fill that role, it's just a good feeling. You feel a little more free, you get to move around a little more."

There are some challenges associated with the shift to a two-point stance, Rivers noted. His get-off at the snap is probably still quicker when he has a hand in the dirt. It's tougher to load.

"But that's just something that with reps will come along," Rivers said. "That's just something that you keep working at, keep working at, keep working at, and eventually, hopefully it will get there."

On Tuesday, he showed signs of getting there. Rivers burst into the backfield from the right side to combine for a sack with his fellow rookie Deatrich Wise, who rushed from a spot on the interior of the defensive line. Rivers also seemed to understand his responsibilities in coverage, which are still relatively new to the college edge-rusher.

"It's coming along," he said. "I've made some strides. Still got a long way to go."

The mere fact that Rivers is being asked to embark on foreign tasks at this juncture is a sign that the Patriots think he can handle them. And even if he isn't a natural in coverage or as an interior-rusher just yet, things could be much worse for the rookie who's looking to make the most of his opportunities at a position where there seem to be plenty.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for two TDs and caught another to help the Los Angeles Rams put up another big offensive performance with a 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

The NFL's lowest-scoring team last year looks like a completely different outfit this season under first-year coach Sean McVay thanks to vastly improved play by Goff after a rough rookie season as the No. 1 overall pick.

The Rams (2-1) have also been helped by the additions of receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and the play-calling of McVay as they have scored 107 points through three games. That's the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

All three of Goff's touchdown passes came on third down, including a 13-yard pass to Watkins early in the fourth quarter that gave Los Angeles a 41-26 lead.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.


More AP NFL: pro32.ap.org and twitter.com/AP-NFL

Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?


Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?


0:41 - Tom E. Curran breaks down the ‘blueprint’ to beat the Patriots and if the Texans have the talent to do it.

5:27 - Michael Holley and Kayce Smith discuss Kyrie Irving’s comments that he made on Early Edition about going back to Cleveland for the opening game. 

9:52 - We take a listen to what Malcolm Butler had to say about his role on the team and discuss how the cornerback keeps saying all the right things. 

15:18 - Michael McCann, Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated joins BST to talk about Aaron Hernandez’s brain found to have CTE and his family now suing the NFL and the Patriots.