Confident Hightower growing into bigger role

Confident Hightower growing into bigger role
August 26, 2013, 9:00 pm
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FOXBORO -- At this time last season, Dont’a Hightower had already exhibited enough command of what the Patriots were asking him to do that he opened the season as a rookie starter.
His growth continues, said Bill Belichick on Monday.

“He had a good spring; he’s had a real good camp,” said Belichick. “Versatile player; he’s a smart guy, I think he had good understanding of what we did last year but it’s certainly better this year. He has a lot more experience. We’ve asked him to do more; he has more responsibilities and he handles those with very few errors. Dependable player that’s adjustable and has a lot of versatility; big guy that can run and do a lot of different things for us.”

Versatile and dependable are attributes any coach values. For Belichick to see it in his second-year linebacker – and know that the versatile and dependable Jerod Mayo is standing close by Hightower – has to be cause for optimism.

Hightower spoke Monday about his increased confidence, saying, “I know what I can do, I know my role. I feel like everybody else around me knows their role. … I feel this year I can be an extra vocal leader or a leader by example.”

Because of the youth of the linebackers – and through much of the defense – there’s good chemistry on that side of the ball. And also an atmosphere of shared reliance.
“In the meeting room and in the defense, the (guys like Vince Wilfork, Mayo and Devin McCourty) we all look up to and respect those guys, at the same time, they look at us and expect to compare notes," Hightower said. "If I see something Mayo is doing that I’m used to doing I can give him (information) on that."
There’s been a wide variety of linebacking combinations used in the first three games. Hightower’s played the middle and his outside position. Mayo’s been used sparingly, mostly in sub defenses. Brandon Spikes has been moved around as well and allowed to stay on the field in passing situation.

“We use a lot of different combinations at pretty much every position,” said Belichick. “I think that’s important to create our depth for ourselves and also to give players an opportunity to increase their value by having versatility. We know through past experiences that we’re going to need more than just the guys who are in the starting lineup on opening day to have a good football team.  

"We’re going to have different combinations, we’re going to have to play them. We’ve already done some of that. Those experiences hopefully will serve us well down the road if we need them. I’m sure we’ll need some. I don’t know which ones but we’ll try to prepare for all of them.”

The Patriots have been adept at causing turnovers the past several seasons. Hightower has the size, power and intelligence to become a playmaker because of these attributes. And because of the Patriots defensive mentality.

“A defense that swarms, if you make one guy miss there should always be one or two guys there,” he explained. “It should keep those shifty guys contained. If everybody gets to the ball, something good will happen.”