Dont’a Hightower Optimistic About Patriots’ Defensive Potential In 2016

FOXBORO, Mass. — The last time we saw the New England Patriots’ defense, it allowed 20 points to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game in January. It gave up just three points in the second half of that loss.

The Patriots’ defense was very good last season. It ranked 10th in points allowed, second in sacks, fifth in turnover differential, eighth in passes defended and ninth in rush yards allowed per game.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has brought most of that defense back for the 2016 season, so there’s a good chance it will again be a major strength of the team overall.

“Right now, it’s just a big learning curve,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said after Friday’s training camp practice at Gillette Stadium.

“There’s always more to improve as far as learning certain schemes or doing things in different ways that offenses want to attack us. Right now, everybody is just tying to pick it up and converting a little better from where we left off.”

Based on the success of the defense last season, in addition to the impressive depth at most positions in camp, Hightower is optimistic this unit can perform at a high level again.

“I’m sure we all have individual goals, but we know we have something special here,” Hightower said. “Each day, we come out and try to work on our craft and perfect that, and pick up that bond that we had together. We feel like we can get a lot accomplished and it starts right now.”

The Patriots’ defense will need to be strong early in the season as backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo starts under center with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games.

The first test comes right off the bat in Week 1 when the Patriots travel west to take on an Arizona Cardinals offense that ranked second in points per game last season (30.6).

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Jan 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-20 during the second half in the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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