Spikes vs. Hightower on NFL radar

In a piece now posted on ESPN.com, senior writer John Clayton identifies 10 training camp competitions around the NFL that bear watching. One from the Patriots makes the cut, at No. 7, and it's Brandon Spikes vs. Dont'a Hightower at inside linebacker.

"Spikes was a second-round pick in 2010. If Bill Belichick keeps the Patriots in a 4-3 defense, then Hightower will battle Spikes for playing time," Clayton writes. "If both do well, Belichick could switch back to a 3-4 and use both players."

Clayton is in tune with the pulse of New England, as one of the big questions since the Patriots made Hightower the 25th overall selection in the draft is where he fits.

If he's an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, would he beat out Spikes to play next to Jerod Mayo? Or could he help as an outside linebacker in that alignment, leaving the Spikes/Mayo pairing intact on the inside?

Bill Belichick noted that Hightower has Mike Vrabel type versatility -- he could be inside, outside, in a two-point stance or a three-point stance.

The other factor to consider is the rising percentage the Patriots are in a sub defense (5 or more defensive backs), which was in the 65-70 percent range in 2011, according to personnel director Nick Caserio. Hightower figures to be part of that mix in some way, as he was at Alabama. That is an area that Spikes, who has been viewed more as an early-down player as a run-stuffer, has not always been called upon.

Both figure to contribute, but how much, and in what role, will be a training camp storyline to monitor.

To read Clayton's piece, CLICK HERE.