FOXBORO, Mass. — Dont’a Hightower has taken a backseat since Vince Wilfork went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. But now that Jerod Mayo is also down for the count, Hightower has to fill a prominent role.
Mayo wore the Patriots’ green dot communication-device helmet. That helmet kept him in touch with the Patriots’ sideline, where coaches would radio the calls in to the defensive captain. Mayo was placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral, so someone else has to fill that role.
Hightower seemed confident that he could take on Mayo’s communication role.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” Hightower said. “I’ve talked to Matty P [Matt Patricia], I’ve talked to Pep [Pepper Johnson] about it, so it’s definitely something I knew down the road. If something ever happened, I would have to step up and do it. I’m not nervous about it. It’s something I’ve done before, maybe not in the NFL, but I’ve done it before. I know everybody’s behind me, they support me, so that’s all I can ask for.”
Hightower wore the green dot during the preseason when Mayo would come out of games. Hightower was a two-time captain at Alabama, so leadership is nothing new for the second-year player.
“Just be prepared for everything, know the game plan of ins and outs,” Hightower said about the role. “Know what everybody has to do, what position they need to be in, know when to make checks, what time to make checks. Just being real thorough, basically just being the quarterback of the defense.”’
Hightower has mostly played strong-side linebacker (or Sam) since coming to New England. Mayo plays the weak-side (or Will), but the Alabama product said it’s not difficult to switch positions at linebacker.
“Whenever you learn it, we don’t get taught as a Mike or a Sam or a Will or a Jack,” Hightower said. “It’s backers. The best way and the easiest way to learn something is the concept of it. So, once I know the concept of it, I know what each position does. We all do that. [Brandon] Spikes knows the Sam, Jamie [Collins] knows the Will, Dane [Fletcher] knows the Jack. Everybody can be moved around and it’s easier that way and it’s easier for us to scheme different teams and stuff like that. It’s not hard at all.”
Fletcher seconded that notion.
“You have to know what everybody is doing, especially the other linebackers,” Fletcher said. “So, if one guy goes down, you gotta know what the Sam, the Mike, the Will’s doing, so you can fill in that role. On top of what the D-line is doing, because you gotta control them. And the secondary, as well.”
It won’t be easy to fill Mayo’s shoes, but it sounds like Hightower, Fletcher and the rest of the linebackers are fully prepared by their coaches to take on any role thrown at them.