Hightower's versatility to be tested at training camp

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Hightower's versatility to be tested at training camp

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower's versatility at the linebacker position is just one of the reasons the New England Patriots drafted him 25th overall in this year's NFL Draft. But putting that versatility into action at the NFL level can sometimes be more difficult than you think, even for Bill Belichick.

Coming from Alabama, Hightower played primarily on the inside, but he also played some outside linebacker, along with some defensive end in some of Alabama's nickel and four-man line sets.

Needless to say, he can adjust to what the team needs.

He's had flexibility in college, in a good program, at a high level of competition," said Belichick on Friday before the team's second day of training camp at Gillette Stadium. "He's a smart guy who works hard. He's got some different skills. We'll see how that will play out."

But how that plays out may also depend on how Belichick handles Hightower's situation, as early as the team's current training camp workouts.

It's a situation that even he may have to work with on the fly.

"If we wait too long to move him, or to try something else, then you're too far behind, as far as workouts," said Belichick. "If you throw it all in there at once, sometimes that can be overwhelming, and then you don't get one thing right. That's a good question, you try to find that balance.

"You take it at a pace that you think the player can handle. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong. You have to adjust . . . But until you work with a guy, and you're trying to do something like that with him, you've got to try and figure it out on the run sometimes, and that's pretty challenging."

With that said, and the challenge Belichick may face, the concern level isn't too great, as he knows Hightower's football smarts are above average.

"But he's a smart kid, and he definitely understands football and football concepts," said Belichick. "That comes very quickly to him, so that's good. Even though he might not know exactly what every part of his assignment is. He's spacial, he knows where he's playing, who's next to him, he can figure out how he's supposed to fit things, just instinctually, it comes to him. So that can cover up for maybe not knowing exactly, precisely what the exact assignment is, but just kind of being able to figure it out."

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

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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.

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

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

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.

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.