New England Patriots strong-side linebacker Dont’a Hightower is coming off of a successful rookie season, and more is expected of the solid LB heading into his second season in the league. Hightower was stout against the run and looks like somebody who will be a very good linebacker in this league for some time to come. Towards the end of the year, we saw some more delayed blitzes out of both Hightower and Jerod Mayo in an effort to manufacture pressure with Chandler Jones struggling with an ankle injury, and Hightower’s ability to go after the passer is an intriguing asset. If the Patriots line up in a 3-4 more often next season, I could see Hightower carving out a nice niche as a “Jack” linebacker in the 3-4 with some consistent pressure.
When asked about rushing the passer, Hightower stated, via the Boston Herald, “It’s something I like to do. I’m going to try to spend some more time with (defensive line coach) Pat Graham, Vince, (linebackers coach) Pepper Johnson just to try to get up to it. In college, I rushed, but I never really knew exactly what I was doing. . . . ”
If Hightower can learn the ins-and-outs of rushing the passer and covering, then Hightower could turn into a complete outside linebacker and a force to be reckoned with as a pure three-down LB. Hightower has the upside of a good pass rushing LB, but where he makes his game right now is as a run defender. It’s no secret that the Patriots have a very stout run defense, and Hightower was a key part of that last season. When asked about playing against the run, Hightower added that he enjoys facing interior linemen and fullbacks on rushing plays, and it’s that type of attitude that makes Hightower such a presence against the run.
The ability to go after the passer and hopefully improve his ability in coverage will make Hightower more of a versatile linebacker, and Hightower stated that he “loves” being versatile and being able to play the run, cover, and go after the QB. Hightower has the upside of that kind of player, and we’ll see if he can get those part of the game down pat. It’s definitely a process, and I think it will take Hightower another year for him to become that kind of all-around linebacker.