FOXBORO, Mass. — With Dont’a Hightower reportedly sidelined for the rest of the 2017 season, it’s at least worth seeing how the New England Patriots’ defense would look with veteran linebacker David Harris in a starting role, right?
Harris, who was on the field for 889 plays and 86.78 percent of snaps last season with the New York Jets, has played 26 snaps so far in 2017. That’s 5.51 percent of Patriots defensive action.
The Patriots’ defense, for the most part, has not looked great without Hightower. Case in point:
The majority of the Patriots’ defensive snaps without Hightower have come with Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy playing linebacker. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that Van Noy started playing his best football when Hightower shifted from edge defender, where he began the season, back to inside linebacker. That appeared to put less on Van Noy’s plate.
So, the Patriots need a trusty body to fill Hightower’s role. Could it be Harris? He certainly seems to have a firm grasp on the Patriots’ defense.
“He came in there Sunday, and there was no panic from anybody,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said Thursday. “He was very calm, played fast, was running around, hitting. I think any time you get veteran players, playing football’s not new to them. Obviously, the scheme and all those different things when you go to a new place, but once you get out there, and you’re playing, I think you just go play football. And I think he’s a guy that can play different roles because of his knowledge of the game.
“I think he’s stepped up and showed he’s ready to go. I think the thing that I have tremendous respect for is that he’s one of those true pros. He’s in here the same time every day. He knows everything. He’s been on the sideline on games where he’s inactive, he’s pointing things out, what’s going on in the game. You can tell whenever his number is called, he’s gonna be ready to go, because you can tell he studies what we’re doing and what the opponent is doing week in and week out for whenever he’s called upon to be ready to step up and play well.”
Despite the fact that Harris only joined the Patriots during training camp, he said he’d be comfortable taking on a greater communication role. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise given McCourty’s praise.
“If I was asked to wear the green dot, I’d be comfortable with it, but we have other guys who are also capable of doing that,” Harris said.
The Patriots also could elect to acquire a linebacker to help fill in for Hightower. But if they give up assets to acquire a linebacker, then what’s the point in having Roberts and Harris on the team. The Patriots also have Shea McClellin returning off of injured reserve for Week 10. So, the Patriots have in-house options to fill in for Hightower. And it’s worth seeing what Harris looks like in a full-time role.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images