FOXBORO, Mass. — There's nothing easy about being a rookie in the NFL, but Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower has a slight advantage.
Hightower played at Alabama for head coach Nick Saban, who was Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Browns in the 1990s. Saban and Belichick remain close, and their defensive systems are similar.
Much to Hightower's excitement, he opened the Patriots' playbook and recognized some familiar verbage.
"Some of the terms are some of the same," Hightower said. "But at the same time, it's going to be more about me looking into the playbook and learning the different terminology, get with some of the older guys that have been here for a while and had so much success. There's a lot of older guys that are here that are going to help me get along."
Two of them will be linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. Hightower is already familiar with both, as they were two of the most prominent defensive players in the SEC during the last decade.
Coincidentally, Hightower used Mayo and Spikes as a resource in the past, and he's going to get a chance to do it to a much higher degree at Gillette Stadium.
"When I first got drafted, I reached out to those guys, and texted them and told them how much I was looking forward to getting in and working with those guys," Hightower said. "Them playing in the SEC, I've seen them in action before. I watched them play and stole a couple of their moves that they used out there on the field. I'm really looking forward to getting in and working with some of those guys."