The New England Patriots were practicing kickoff coverage during one of their joint sessions with the Houston Texans when Derek Rivers’ rookie season came to an abrupt end. New England’s highest selection of the 2017 draft tried to change directions during the drill but his left knee gave out and he remained on the ground. While there was initial optimism about his injury, an MRI later confirmed that he had torn his ACL.
Instead of playing significant snaps opposite the Patriots' top defensive edge, Trey Flowers, Rivers spent the rest of his first NFL year rehabbing from his season-ending knee injury. However, the 24-year old thinks that the experience ultimately is still a positive one for him. “It was a good rehab process,” the Youngstown State product told reporters after the only open practice of last week's organized team activities.
“I was able to learn the defense,” Rivers continued. “And I wasn’t away from the building, so I could do everything except be here on the field.” With the third-round rookie out, the Patriots' left defensive end spot – the one formerly occupied by Rob Ninkovich – remained a revolving door all season long. Rivers, at least judged by his early practice performances last year, might have been able to bring stability to the position.
But despite being unable to do that, he does not consider his lost rookie campaign a failure. “It actually made me a better player. It helped out a lot,” Rivers pointed out when talking about a rehabilitation process that also saw him spend time in meetings and with the Patriots' coaching staff. “It definitely helped build confidence, obviously coming in here your rookie year is almost like your freshman year in college.”
“Now, it’s just listening to the coaches and studying the playbook and pretty much just getting ready to roll for each practice and just trying to get better each and every day.” Judging by last Tuesday's open practice, Rivers is very well on his way to doing all that: He was the top player in the rotation on the defensive left side during 11-on-11 drills. “It’s a blessing to be able to come out here and have this opportunity,” Rivers said.
But Rivers also admitted that he would still feel new to the game sometimes. Despite that feeling, though, the Patriots do not shy away from using him like they did last year: During last Tuesday's practice, he was the top player in the rotation on the defensive left side during 11-on-11 drills. If the past is any indication, his role will continue to grow and soon look like last season's when he rushed the passer, set the edge, and dropped back into coverage.
Right now, however, the main development is simply being back on the field – and Rivers knows that: “It’s a blessing to be able to come out here and have this opportunity.” The Patriots certainly have to hope that he is able to make the best out of it this year.
The quotes in the story were taken from the Boston Herald's Stephen Hewitt (Patriots' Derek Rivers owns the faith to contribute after missing last season) and MassLive's Kevin Dillon (Derek Rivers ready to make impact for New England Patriots after spending rookie season on sidelines).