I learned a lot about myself last year,” he said. “I know about my strengths and my weaknesses, and that’s some of the things I’m working on now and trying to get done in training camp, minicamp, before the season.
It’s surprising how Hightower’s rookie year went virtually unnoticed. He immediately added toughness, athleticism and playmaking ability to New England’s front seven. Hightower also got better as the year went on. He started 13 games for the Patriots and had seven games with at least five tackles. Hightower was unusually steady for a rookie linebacker. He didn’t make many mental errors, and also showed a knack for blitzing, as evidenced by his four sacks. Another year under Bill Belichick’s tutelage will only make Hightower a bigger force. Playing next to linebacker Jerod Mayo and behind defensive lineman Vince Wilfork will only make Hightower a better player in Year 2.
“I’m going with the same mindset that I always have, which is to go in and be dominant, and be accountable to my teammates, and do what I have to do get off the field and whatever I have to do to get the victory,” Hightower said.
“It’s football and I’m a student of the game,” Hightower said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about, so each day I wake up and I’m blessed to be able to do something I love and to be able to make a living off of it. Football is my life, so I’m definitely glad that I’m blessed to be where I’m at.”
Dont’a Hightower was pegged as a do-almost-anything linebacker when the Patriots drafted him in April, including performing as a blitzer and pass defender. He looked comfortable doing both, nearly de-cleating running back Brandon Bolden on a re-route, and timing up a blitz as if he knew the offense’s snap count.
Already, word inside Gillette Stadium is that Hightower is showcasing a veteran’s know-how and a let’s-get-to-work attitude. That’s no surprise. He comes to New England from Alabama, where former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban is the coach, and has already said it has made the transition smoother than it might have been elsewhere. Hightower fits in any defensive scheme, and Belichick has already compared his football smarts to Mayo’s, and his versatility to Mike Vrabel’s. When Belichick talks like that, as he did on SiriusXM NFL Radio in April, you know he’s excited about the possibilities.
After drafting Dont’a Hightower in the first round, some suggested he’d find his way on the field in sub situations as an edge rusher. Hightower did some of that in college, but also held coverage responsibilities as one of the leaders of the Alabama defense. He flashed the ability to drop into coverage and break on the ball today, and we’ll continue to monitor his work in space. If he can play on all three downs as a linebacker, that would give the Patriots added versatility on their defense.
I’m thrilled about Hightower the player don’t get me wrong, but I’m seeing a real lack of flair. While I’m happy he didn’t stick with the facemask he wore at Alabama, this one’s kind of the vanilla choice. At least Spikes has the audacity to wear a tinted visor.
There’s no chance he keeps number 45 in the regular season so we can throw that out the window, and from the looks of this pic he needs to drop a couple lbs if he wants to play LB here. So I think the jury is still out.
Final Eye Ball Test Grade: Incomplete, pending number change and no spare tire.
PatsPropaganda is written and edited by Mike Dussault. He is an unapologetic homer and a card-carrying Belichickian. He has a soft spot for hard core X's and O's, and believes in "throw to score, run to win", low pad level, and touchdown celebrations that last two weeks.
He is a Patriots Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, and his work has been featured on FoxSports.com, Yahoo Sports, and SI.com. He also co-hosts the weekly PatsPropaganda & Frenz Podcast with Bleacher Report's AFC East Editor Erik Frenz.
PatsPropaganda was TruFan.com/CSNNE's 2011 winner for Best Patriots Blog.
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