Fletcher, Hightower ready in Mayo's absence

Fletcher, Hightower ready in Mayo's absence
October 16, 2013, 3:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- With Jerod Mayo going on injured reserve Wednesday, New England's linebacker corps has a lot of slack to pick up.

Fourth-year Patriot Dane Fletcher, who's played just 11 defensive snaps this season, will take on a bigger role. Either he or rookie Jamie Collins is the likely choice to step in for Mayo at weakside linebacker.

Fletcher believes he is ready.

"I feel comfortable as a linebacker," he said after practice. "Coming from the preseason, I feel comfortable getting reps in practice and really harnessing in and watching film this whole season. If I'm the guy who has to step up, so be it.

"I think it's just one of those things where time will tell who fills that role and who fills those shoes. It's not just going to be one specific person because you can't do that with Mayo. It's got to be the whole team that steps up."

Though no one player can do everything exactly as Mayo does, someone does have to lead the defensive huddle, and someone does have to wear the the "green dot" radio communication helmet. Those tasks may fall to Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower is only in his second season but earned enough trust to wear the comms helmet during practice and some of this year's preseason games, and was tapped to take over last Sunday after Mayo was injured.

He doesn't shy away from responsibility, no matter how complicated things can get.

"It's good and it's bad," Hightower had said in August. "Sometimes, the game's going kind of fast, or practice is going fast, the tempo is pretty fast, and you try to get the call from them, you're getting the call in and you try to relay the message, but then you're also getting 'alert for this,' 'alert for that,' 'tell them this.' It's a bunch of stuff, but at the end of the day, I'm still grateful that I have the pleasure to do that."

When he dons that helmet for 60 minutes against the Jets, it may feel a bit heavier. This is a road game against a divisional opponent, not a training exercise.

Fine by Hightower.

"I’m looking forward to it. I talked to [defensive coordinator Matt Patricia] and I talked to [linebackers coach] Pepper [Johnson] about it," he said. "Definitely, I knew that down the road if something happened I’d have to step up and do it."

The player's poise is only a good thing. Hightower has played far more snaps than Fletcher, but his numbers haven't been consistent. After play 71 of a possible 74 in this season's first meeting against New York, his snaps fell off over the following four weeks: 64 against Tampa, 49 in Atlanta, 37 against the Bengals, and just 24 last Sunday.

"Whatever they ask me to do, I'm willing to do it," he said. "For whatever reason I'm not on the field, I'm sure Bill and whoever else has something to do with it, knows why. Now knowing, regardless of whether it's injuries or whatever it is, I'm going to suck it up and get ready to do my job."

And it is his job now. There is no time to mourn Mayo, or any other injured player. 

As Fletcher put it: "You worry about yourself. You can't worry about other players and what their role is. If it's a younger [player] you try to help him out, but at the end of the day, it's their job to know what their responsibility is and we've all got to put it on our own shoulders."