Patriots' Hightower learns through play-calling

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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."
Hardly.

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