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.

Contact Us