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Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower eye starting roles

Inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower isn't the only New England Patriots rookie making noise early in training camp. While Bill Belichick has showered Hightower with praise for his intelligence and versatility, fellow first-round pick Chandler Jones is also looking like a starter.

Jones was high-ceiling, high-risk pick out of Syracuse who NFL Network's Mike Mayock liked more than any defensive player in the draft. He was viewed as a raw, Jason Pierre-Paul-like player who would take some time before getting on the field. His development has arrived more game-ready than expected, according to the Boston Globe.

The Patriots want Jones to take on Andre Carter's old "elephant" role that relies on intelligence, strength, and versatility. It's early, but Jones looks like he can hold up against the run. The Boston Herald notes Jones consistently earns starter snaps.

At this point, we'd be surprised if Hightower and Jones aren't starting for this young Patriots' defense (Jones at defensive end). Although no matter what the first-rounders do, New England's biggest issue has been the secondary.

Greg A. Bedard reports that controversial second-round pick Tavon Wilson has been coming on strong of late as a safety/cornerback/linebacker. (How very Belichickian.) Wilson has been in Rob Gronkowski's pocket and could be used as a specialized tight-end killer.

At cornerback, Devin McCourty appears to have one spot sewn up. Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling are battling for the other spot.

If nothing else, this young Patriots defense provides more talent and potential for long-term growth than the unit has enjoyed since 2005. The Patriots have often fielded an uneven defense too reliant on Belichick's game plans with stop-gap veterans and roster filler complementing a few stars like Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Rodney Harrison or Asante Samuel back in the day.

Jones and Hightower aim to be this Patriots generation's McGinest and Bruschi. The rookies won't have to wait long to get their chance.

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