Patriots' Hightower learns through play-calling


Patriots' Hightower learns through play-calling

FOXBORO -- For all the hype surrounding New England's second first-round pick in 2012, Dont'a Hightower, it's impossible to forget he's a rookie.
When he's talking about receiving play calls from the headset, anyway.
"The first couple times we did it in practice I was kind of lost because I didn't know who was talking to me," Hightower laughed. "I still didn't know for a while that it was defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. It's a lot different than taking signals and it's a lot easier to not have to stare at the sideline and get the call."
Monday night, as the Patriots took on the Eagles in preseason Game 2, Hightower made the calls. The opportunity may have arisen because starters like defensive captain Jerod Mayo were getting a rest, but the task is still significant.
The rookie is aware and honored.
"I don't feel like they'd ask me to do it if they didn't think I was ready for it, if it was too big a responsibility," he said. "It just shows what confidence they have in me and what respect I have for my teammates for them to look at a younger guy calling in the huddle, making all the checks and stuff. I'm still trying to learn as much as I can each day from Brandon Spikes, Mayo, Vince Wilfork, and Patrick Chung."
He actually learned something from the guys who didn't dress Monday: There is no "Back to normal." Being put on the spot, that green dot on the back of his helmet, wasn't the only curveball Hightower will see this season. Understanding that and being able to adjust is part of the game.
The linebacker didn't fret without his defensive leaders -- he shrugged, and played.
"It's football; you never know what might happen. Mayo might be sick or something during the season or whatever. I've been practicing with Bobby Carpenter in mini camps and stuff. There's different variations and different ways that we all get to play with each other, so that if something does happen, we don't miss a beat."
Head coach Bill Belichick has lauded the linebacker for his smarts. As the preseason wears on, Hightower might still fail to wrap up a guy here, or fill the wrong gap there, but the Patriots are counting on those making those rookie mistakes disappear.
It's all about film and how you study, Hightower said.
Would there be much time to review the Eagles game before moving onto Tampa Bay?
"Your guess is as good as mine," he smiled. "It's my rookie year; I'm new to it too. Other than what time I have to be here tomorrow, I don't know anything."

Geno Smith has torn ACL; Ryan Fitzpatrick to start for Jets


Geno Smith has torn ACL; Ryan Fitzpatrick to start for Jets

The Jets’ quarterback situation took a comically typical turn Monday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under center after an MRI revealed that Geno Smith has a torn ACL. 

After starting New York’s first six games of the season, Fitzpatrick was demoted to backup for Sunday’s game against the Ravens. Smith was injured on a sack by Baltimore’s Matt Judon, forcing Fitzpatrick back into action. 

After leading the Jets to a 24-16 win, Fitzpatrick made his dissatisfaction with being benched known. 

“The biggest thing in this game in order to last, is to have belief in yourself,” Fitzpatrick said in his postgame press conference. “Because when the owner stops believing in you and the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself. That’s something that I’ve had to deal with before. That’s something I’m dealing with now.”

On the season, Fitzpatrick has completed 136 of 237 passes for 1,561 yards with six touchdowns and a league-leading 11 interceptions. 

Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron


Belichick: Kickers are like golfers; have to hit driver, sand wedge, 5-iron

In searching for answers on what might be going on with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, coach Bill Belichick was asked on Monday if there was any chance that Gostkowski's mechanics on kickoffs may be affecting his field goals. With the new touchback rule encouraging the Patriots to use more "pop-up" kicks to the goal line this season, might Gostkowski's swing have been altered?

Belichick said that the two plays are separate and that the Patriots expect Gostkowski to be able to execute a whole series of different types of kicks as part of his job.

"Well, I think they’re definitely different," Belichick said on a conference call. "I don’t think there’s any question about that. I mean, it would be like a golfer. You’ve got to be able to hit a sand wedge. You’ve got to be able to hit a five-iron. You’ve got to be able to drive. You’ve got to be able to putt.

"That’s what kickers and punters do. There’s plus-50 punts, there’s field goals, there’s kickoffs, there’s backed-up punts, there’s punts against a heavy rush, there’s punts against a six-man box where the gunners both are getting double-teamed. And just like golf, there’s wind conditions and not wind conditions and so forth. So it’s not like like you’re standing out there in a driving range and just banging the ball away every time. Especially on place kicks, you’re dealing with a center and a holder and timing on the play. It’s not like you’re just placing the ball down there on a tee and kicking it like you are a golf ball or a kickoff.

"Yeah, they’re definitely different, and whether it’s a punter or a kicker you’re talking about, they have to master different skills, different kicks, different types of kicks, different things that are specific to their position, just like every other player and every other athlete, for the most part, has to do. If you’re a basketball player, you just can’t shoot free throws. You’ve got to be able to make some other shots, too. That’s part of the position, being able to do the things that are required of that position, and they’re not all the same. I don’t think they’re all the same for anybody."

Belichick was also asked about how Gostkowski is coached. There are position-specific coaches with every NFL franchise, but when it comes to special teams, there is typically a special-teams coordinator and little else. There is no kicking coach, generally, nor a position coach dedicated to punting or snapping. 

Belichick said that he feels the team has enough support in place, starting with special teams coach Joe Judge, in order to help Gostkowski through his difficult stretch.

"I think Joe’s very knowledgable about the techniques of kicking," Belichick said. "I know when I became a special teams coach and coached special teams for many years as an assistant coach, and I continue to be involved with it as a head coach, that’s one of the things I had to learn. I had to learn how to coach those individual specialists, the snappers, the kickers, the punters, the returners. I don’t think it’s any different than coaching any other position. Things you don’t know, you need to learn. The things you do know, you need to be able to teach to the players, however you acquire that information.

"Some of that certainly comes from the players, especially when you coach good players at the position that you’re coaching, you can learn a lot from them, just like I learned a lot from many of the players that I coached. Going back to people like Dave Jennings as a punts or Carl Banks or Lawrence Taylor or Pepper [Johnson], guys like that, as linebackers with the Giants. However you acquire that information, you acquire it and you have to be able to convey it and teach it to the players and recognize technique or judgment.

"There’s a whole host of things that go into performance, but all the things that are related to those; be able to figure out which ones are the most important and which ones need to be corrected and so forth. I think Joe’s very knowledgeable on that, as was Scott O’Brien. I have a lot of experience with that myself. That’s what coaching is. You don’t know, then you’ve got to find out. Nobody knows everything. No coach knows everything about every position. Maybe a guy’s played it for a decade, he might be well-versed in that position. But I’d say for the most of the rest of us that haven’t done that, things you don’t know, you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to find out, you’ve got to figure them out."