FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s anyone’s guess how the New England Patriots’ defensive front will be configured Thursday in the NFL Kickoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs since All-Pro linebacker Dont’a Hightower missed all of training camp and preseason with a knee injury.
It’s been surmised that Hightower could take over Rob Ninkovich’s old role as a hybrid edge rusher in the Patriots’ defense. Hightower has experience rushing off the edge dating back to his college days at Alabama, though most of his success in the NFL has come as a blitzer. Hightower isn’t ruling out the possibility that he could take on a bigger edge role this season.
“It’s kind of hard to say that,” Hightower said. “With Bill (Belichick) and Matty P (defensive coordinator Matt Patricia), they draw up a little bit of everything, so as long as I’m out there, that’s all I’m worried about.”
Bill Belichick said earlier this summer that rushing from the edge and blitzing are “pretty much a different world.”
“The leverage is different. It’s another body inside,” Belichick said. “The tackles and the ends are usually matched up one-on-one 95 percent of the time. Inside, I mean its backs, centers, guards. I’d say it’s a different world in there.”
Hightower takes pride in the fact that he can do both.
“Rushing not only inside and outside is different, but rushing on the ball and off the ball is different,” Hightower said. “That’s something that a lot of … guys kind of have to get used to, that are a little bit different, guys that rush inside and out. That’s something that a lot of guys take a lot of pride in is versatility and obviously rushing inside and outside and the end and tackle or nose is different. But we have a lot of guys who can do that.”
Though Hightower is expected to play Thursday against the Chiefs, he wouldn’t confirm his status when asked point blank Monday afternoon.
“That’s the game plan, man,” Hightower said. “But it’s been a long offseason and I’ve been working and hopefully this progress will take me into Thursday and we’ll see from there.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images