New England Patriots veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower was back on the practice field Thursday after missing the majority of the 2017 season due to a torn pectoral muscle.
Another key return and perhaps the most important return for the New England Patriots for the 2018 NFL season is veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
The Alabama product, who missed New England’s final 12 games due to a torn pectoral muscle, returned to the practice field on Thursday to take part in organized team activities.
The importance of this man on defense was extremely highlighted towards his absence. Without Hightower, the Patriots simply struggled on the defensive side of the field. The team was exposed on defense with an inability to consistently rush the passer and also struggled at times to stop the opposing team’s rushing attack.
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Although durability has been unreliable during his tenure with the New England Patriots, Dont’a Hightower has been an impact in both those areas. Obviously, his return adds improvement on the field and should help the players around him.
His return also gives Bill Belichick and Brian Flores more flexibility in their play calling. Hightower’s veteran leadership will help guide younger linebackers like Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Harvey Langhi, Eric Lee and 2018 fifth-round pick Ja’Whaun Bentley to the right spots on the field.
If one of those players emerge in 2018 it will be due to the presence of Hightower. His versatility and playmaking skills will allow those players the freedom to grow. It will also give them the opportunity to learn from watching how he performs in a Patriots defensive scheme that depends on each player doing their job.
Speaking for Ja’Whaun Bently, the 143rd overall pick in the 2018 draft is certainly looking forwards to learning the game from one of his favorite players, Dont’a Hightower.
Coming out of Purdue, the rookie linebacker is inspired by fellow Boilermaker alums like former Patriots linebackers Roosevelt Colvin and Rob Ninkovich. But, mostly, Hightower is the player he looks to model his game after.
Labeling the Patriots veteran as one of his favorites, Bentley praised Hightower’s style and physicality during his introductory conference call following the draft.
"“I definitely like (Hightower’s) style of play,” Bentley said, as transcribed by NESN. “He’s definitely a physical guy. He’s a physical guy and versatile, and that’s one of the things that jumps out to you. And I watched a lot of him when he was at Alabama.”"
Described as an “old-school linebacker,” Ja’Whaun Bentley has similar physical attributes as Hightower. Though not as highly touted entering the NFL, the young linebacker may strive in the Patriots’ system due to his ability to stop the run.
Under the guidance of Dont’a Hightower, he will also learn how to be a more versatile player. He may even earn some snaps off the edge, an area of need for the New England Patriots.