FOXBORO, Mass. — Dont’a Hightower has been depended on heavily this season by the New England Patriots — perhaps too much at times.
The second-year linebacker started out the season rotating with Brandon Spikes for snaps in passing downs next to Jerod Mayo. When Mayo went down, Hightower then became the team’s de facto “do everything” linebacker — the one who was expected to cover, rush the passer, shed blockers in the run game and communicate signals with the rest of the defense. Hightower stepped too far outside of his comfort zone, however, and began to struggle.
“Usually when guys try to step up to be a vocal leader or try to do too much outside the box from what they normally do, they kind of put themself in an awkward position, as well as everybody else,” Hightower said. “I’ve been there, I’ve done that, trying to do too much. It didn’t work for me. I fell back and everything’s finally coming back to place. As long as everybody does their job, nobody has to go outside the box or be outside their comfort zone.”
Hightower became the the popular scapegoat for why the run defense was failing once Mayo got injured, ignoring the fact that defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were also lost for the season. Recently, Hightower’s game has picked back up and he finished the season as one of the top, most consistent defenders on the Patriots.
Hightower said he was trying to do too much in those weeks that he was struggling. Once he scaled back a little, everything began to come easier.
It’s safe to say Hightower won’t make the same mistake as he now takes on a bigger load with Spikes out for the season. “Do your job” is a popular adage around Gillette Stadium (there’s even a T-shirt with the saying sold at the Patriots Pro Shop), but it’s not just rhetoric.
“Big plays come to you if you’re doing your job,” Hightower said. “I don’t need to make a tremendous catch, I need to do my job, make sure everybody’s lined up, make sure that everyone’s got the right communication. After that, the players are going to make plays.”
It will take all 11 men on defense “doing their job” to fill in for Spikes and beat the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night in the playoffs.