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."

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

It's been almost two years exactly since the Deflategate saga began during the AFC title game between the Colts and Patriots on Jan. 18, 2015.

Since then, Robert Kraft has expressed his displeasure at how the whole thing was handled by the league -- particularly as it relates to the treatment of quarterback Tom Brady -- on multiple occasions. And according to a story in the New York Times, that feeling hasn't subsided.

"Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly," said Kraft . "But we’ve all agreed to subjugate our right to disrupt everything.

"I mean, we can, but we’re a partnership. There’s jealousy, there’s envy, there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair, and you have to suck it up and move on and not use it as an excuse."

Brady served his four-game suspension to start this season, and Kraft opted to accept the league's punishment for the team following the 2014 season: They were docked two draft picks (a first and a fourth) and fined $1 million.

The piece includes Kraft's thoughts on President-elect Donald Trump ("Loyalty is important to me, and he has been a wonderful friend," Kraft said), as well as comments from others on how Kraft has handled his situation ("I think Bob has exhibited disagreement, but he’s also very capable of making and influencing change," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said). 

You can read the full piece here.

Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'


Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had perfect attendance at each of their last two practices. The Steelers, on the other hand, have been working with less than a full deck.

All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell has been conspiculously absent from Pittsburgh's practices each of the last two days. On Wednesday, he was listed on the injury report as a non-participant due to non-injury related reasons. On Thursday, coach Mike Tomlin announced that Bell had been excused from practice due to "personal reasons."

Tomlin added that Bell will be ready to go against the Patriots on Sunday so it seems as though the team is painting this as a nothing-to-see-here situation. And it probably is. Whether or not Bell practices at all this week won't necessarily have any bearing on the AFC title game; if he's healthy, he'll be a factor. 

If for some reason he doesn't follow up his 170-yard performance against the Chiefs with another strong game, however, people will wonder how his preparation was impacted by missing out on the first two of his team's on-the-field sessions this week.