What they're saying: Eagles ready for Patriots to pick up the pace

What they're saying: Eagles ready for Patriots to pick up the pace

BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota -- Now that everyone's settled into the Bold North, and now that the insanity of "Opening Night" is well into the rearview, it's time to start focusing in on the game Sunday, isn't it?

It is. Let's.

MORE PATRIOTS - Dungy doesn't think Pats are best dynasty

One of the matchups that jumps off the page when comparing the Patriots and Eagles is how the two teams will fare when Philly’s defensive line is lined up across from New England's offensive line.

The Eagles have numbers in their favor. They can rotate in and out at will with upwards of eight linemen (seven if Tim Jernigan can't go). They should be fresh late into the game.

The Patriots are well-conditioned, but the Eagles, with Fletcher Cox leading the charge, probably possess the advantage when it comes to sheer talent.

One way the Patriots can try to offset the Eagles' strength is by using their conditioning up front, running an up-tempo offense, and trying to keep certain d-linemen on the field to wear them out.

For instance, if the Patriots get members of Philly's second unit into the game, might they use pace -- without subbing -- to make sure that unit has to play snap after snap.

If the Patriots do opt to sub and use pace, then the officiating crew will allow the Eagles to have an opportunity to sub as well.

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Wednesday that his group is ready for any kind of quick-to-the-line offense they see.

"A lot of teams run tempo," Schwartz said. "That's not unusual. We’re prepared for that. They sub a lot of personnel groups. They tempo within that. Sometimes it's within the same personnel group. You just have to be good with your subs.

"The officials have really done a good job since tempo came into the NFL of regulating when substitutions are made . . . standing over the ball and making sure you have a chance to match personnel."

The Eagles, as Schwartz explained, have seen their share of up-tempo offenses. But what the Patriots can do with Tom Brady at the helm in those spots -- particularly in the last two minutes of a half when there is no rule allowing defenses time to match subs — can be particularly daunting.

"In some way or fashion, there are 32 offenses in the NFL that use tempo in some regard," he said. "Probably not as good as the Patriots. We're gonna have to really be on board with getting guys in and getting out, matching packages, rotating players the way we do. Certain parts of the field are easier to sub than other parts of the

field. It's going to be a great challenge.”

MORE FROM NBCSPORTSBOSTON.COM - Mannix: C's high up Monroe's list

Here are a few more quotes of note that came out of Eagles availability on Wednesday . . .

Alshon Jeffery on Stephon Gilmore as a roommate at the University of South Carolina: "I feel like everyone deserves their own personal space. He was a great roommate. It was cool. We got along well. We definitely had some good times. A lot of stories."

Malcolm Jenkins on why the Eagles represent Philadelphia well: "I think we embody what our city is. We're a bunch of guys that don’t care about the glitz and glamour. Very blue collar. We enjoy a fight. We talk a little trash, and we fly around and hit people. We don’t care about the big plays. We enjoy the scrap. We don't want the credit. We don’t want everybody to hype us up. We love proving our point every time we step on the field.”

Nick Foles on having Brett Favre (who played with Doug Pederson) speak to the team on Saturday: "He's been there, he's won the big game, he’s won big games, he's played a lot, a lot of football. So anytime you have an opportunity to listen to someone like him speak, it's huge. I can't wait to listen to what wisdom and knowledge he gives us and I know everyone on our team will be excited to hear him speak."


Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

FOXBORO - Dont'a Hightower was among the missing during Tuesday's OTA that was open to reporters. He was prominently featured on the team's website as a participant in Thursday's OTA, though.

It's a positive development for one of the Patriots best and most versatile defenders. Hightower tore his pectoral in October and missed the remainder of the 2017 season, leading to some shuffling of personnel both at the second level and on the edge. 

Hightower snagged one of the team's photos of his participation in Thursday's workout and slapped it on his Instagram page. 

Hightower's presence on the turf behind Gillette Stadium, even if he was limited in the practice, allows our minds to wander a bit and look ahead to what the Patriots depth chart might look like at linebacker with him in the fold. 

The Patriots are consistently altering their fronts and Hightower's adaptability allows his role to change with whatever scheme Bill Belichick deploys. 

Hightower can play on the line or off. He can be used as a "Sam" linebacker at the second level in a 4-3 or at the end of the line of scrimmage in 3-4 looks. He played on the left end early last season - a spot we identified yesterday as a potential landing spot for Derek Rivers. And if the Patriots needed Hightower to play as a "Mike" linebacker, he has the ability to do that as well. 

Sub packages, base packages . . . Hightower can line up in a variety of front-seven spots for the Patriots regardless of the situation, which is why when healthy he's been able to serve as an every-down player. (He played 92.4 percent of Patriots defensive snaps in 2014 and 83.1 percent of the snaps in 2016.)

How might the rest of the Patriots linebacker corps slot in if Hightower is a full go for training camp? Let's take a look . . . 


Kyle Van Noy is probably the closest approximation to Hightower that the Patriots have on their roster. When Hightower went out last season, it was Van Noy who moved around the front seven and handled a variety of responsibilities. He's probably best suited as a "Will" linebacker, someone who can use his athleticism to make plays in different areas depending on the situation, but Van Noy's ability to handle multiple responsibilities in New England's defense is part of the reason why the team likes him as much as they do. He was handed a two-year extension early last season. 


Elandon Roberts often handled the "Mike" responsibilities in the Patriots defense last season. The third-year player out of Houston might have the inside track on this role in 2018, but he could be pushed by rookie fifth-round selection Ja'Whaun Bentley out of Purdue. Both players seem like they're at their best against the run game, unafraid to fill their lanes as prideful "thumpers." What may separate this duo is which player can more consistently cover the correct gaps on first and second down, and which player more effectively communicates the defense to their teammates around them. Whether either player can contribute on special teams could also alter how the workload is distributed here. 


Van Noy would likely be the first choice here for the Patriots, but there are a few others who could be angling for time here. Marquis Flowers re-signed with the Patriots this offseason after an impressive end-of-the-season run where he showed up as a pass-rusher with enough athleticism to be trusted to run with backs in the passing game. Flowers was also a key contributor on special teams last season. Rookie sixth-round pick Christian Sam could also compete for "Will" reps. A defensive back in high school, Sam bulked up at Arizona State but remains a good athlete and could be a fit behind Van Noy. Special teamers Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King work out with the linebackers and could be options here if they were ever called upon defensively.


NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above.