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Revisiting Patriots’ rookies and their impact this season

11.26.12 at 1:14 pm ET

Eleven games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown on how the 2012 Patriots rookies have fared:

Defensive end Chandler Jones: The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Jones was a consistent pass rushing presence for the first half of the 2012 campaign, but he’€™s slowed over the last couple of weeks. He was held to just one tackle in a Nov. 11 win over the Bills, and suffered an ankle injury on Nov. 18 against the Colts. He didn’€™t play last Thursday against the Jets, and has likely fallen behind in the race for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. However, regardless of what has happened over the last few weeks, with nine quarterback hits and six sacks through 10 games, he’€™s certainly lived up to expectations in his first year in the league.

Linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower: The linebacker hasn’€™t made the same splash as Jones, but he’€™s become an integral part of the New England defense, despite the fact that he missed two-plus games because of a hamstring injury he suffered in a September win over the Bills in Buffalo. The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder has started eight games this season, played in nine, and has 35 tackles and three sacks in his first season in the NFL.

Defensive back Tavon Wilson: Derided as a reach when he was plucked out of Illinois in the second round by the Patriots, the 6-foot, 210-pound Wilson has struggled at times over the course of his rookie season — he was likely the one at fault when Russell Wilson tossed the game-winning pass for the Seahawks to beat the Patriots in October. But at the same time, there’€™s been a lot of good as well, including the fact that he leads the team with four interceptions. He’€™s played in all 11 games this season, with four starts, and has 32 tackles. He figures to get more playing time down the stretch as part of a secondary with some shifting parts.

Defensive end Jake Bequette: The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder out of Arkansas has essentially taken a redshirt season this year, going inactive for most of the season as a handful of vets (Rob Ninkovich, Trevor Scott, Jermaine Cunningham) and some other younger players (Justin Francis, Chandler Jones) have seen playing time ahead of him at end. The third-round pick has played in two games this season and hasn’€™t registered any stats, but was named a Practice Player of the Week in late October.

Safety Nate Ebner: The former teenage rugby star has secured a steady spot on New England’€™s special teams unit, and has also seen time in the secondary over the course of the first 11 games of the season. The Ohio State product, taken in the sixth round by New England, has played in 11 games and registered 11 tackles over the course of his rookie season. While he’€™s a special teams mainstay, the 6-foot-, 210-pounder has also started to work into a big safety role — described as the ‘€œmoney’€™ position — that has been frequently occupied by hybrid safety/linebacker types like Josh Barrett over the years. With the return of Patrick Chung from injury, it will be interesting to see what it does to Ebner’€™s snaps going forward.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product had a rough camp, struggling to get on the field because of a hamstring issue. But since then, he’€™s worked his way into a regular spot in the rotation of New England defensive backs, starting four of the seven games he’€™s played in this season and showing physical competitiveness and ball skills. He has 25 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, who slipped to the seventh round because of reported character concerns (he was accused of punching a police officer the week before the draft), has been a model citizen in his relatively short time in New England, and has provided the Patriots with some solid depth at corner.

Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert: The seventh-round pick — and lone offensive player taken in the draft this year by the Patriots — was among the final cuts of the summer by New England. He was signed to the Eagles practice squad on September 13, but cut loose soon after that. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder hasn’€™t seen action in a game this season.



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