Patriots linebackers having a blast

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With three top draft choices atop the depth chart in Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins , the New England Patriots have the potential to field one of their best linebacker groups in Bill Belichick’s 15-year tenure as coach.

Strong play at the linebacker level has been a consistent theme through six training camp practices, with Mayo (first round, 10th overall, 2008) leading things in the middle as players have credited his presence for keeping everyone on the same page.

“It’s been great. He knows the defense better than anybody here,” said Hightower, one of the team’s two first-round picks in 2012. “It’s very important to have communication with all the checks we have. If one guy hesitates or makes the wrong check, that’s one hole in the defense and that can make a big play. I feel like we’ve been doing a pretty good job of communication, but there’s always room for improvement.”

As is often the case in NFL training camps at this time, the Patriots' defense has seemed to have the upper hand in drills. Specific to the linebackers, they have been especially competitive in coverage drills, with Collins (second round, 52nd overall, 2013) a standout.

The group is enjoying working together, and it shows. Hightower sees the potential for great things.

“Most definitely,” he said. “I said it before, it’s all about having fun. When you have fun, you can go out there and fly around. Something is going to happen, you never know, you might be in that cutback lane to make that ball pop out. You might be around for a tipped pass to intercept it. Whenever you’re out there having fun, and you have enthusiasm, it’s contagious.”

Some have wondered if the Patriots’ linebackers might miss Brandon Spikes , who signed with the Bills in free agency, in that regard. Spikes brought plenty of energy and was arguably the team’s most physical linebacker against the run.

But the page has been turned and the new-look linebacker trio of Mayo, Hightower and Collins is out to make its own mark.

Their success through the early part of training camp has been hard to miss.