Why Patriots Have Confidence In Linebackers Despite Dont’a Hightower’s Injury


FOXBORO, Mass. — The NFL trade deadline came and went Halloween afternoon, and the New England Patriots elected to leave their linebacking corps as is despite Dont’a Hightower’s season-ending injury.

That means Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores wasn’t speaking empty words when he said Wednesday the team believes in its linebackers.

“I have a lot of confidence in the entire group, starting with Brandon King,” Flores said. “He does a great job in the kicking game. Marquis Flowers has got a little role. David (Harris)’s been great the last couple weeks  — really all year. I shouldn’t say the last couple weeks. He’s been great all year. Elandon (Roberts), Kyle (Van Noy), those guys, you know, Dont’a obviously was a tough loss for us, but I think as a group, everyone’s got to pick it up. We definitely have the next-man-up mentality. Our feeling was just that everyone has to chip in a little bit, do a little bit more. I think we got a little bit of that last week, and hopefully that continues.”

Van Noy, Roberts and Harris all made impactful plays Sunday afternoon when the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Chargers 21-13 at Gillette Stadium. Van Noy had a batted pass and tackle for loss, Harris brought pressure as a pass rusher and Roberts was flying all over the field in the run game. Based on Week 8, it seems Van Noy will take the brunt of Hightower’s responsibilities. Van Noy wore the Patriots’ defensive communication device and aligned in Hightower’s hybrid-edge role as an outside linebacker/defensive end.

“The more you can do,” Flores said. “That’s something we’ve preached here since I’ve been here. Whether it’s Kyle doing something a little bit different, Elandon’s done a few different things, David did a few different things. Collectively, I think as a team, everyone had to step up a little bit more with the absence of Dont’a. I think we did that. We’re going to have to do that moving forward too.”

The Patriots also will be getting a midseason boost at linebacker when they choose to activate Shea McClellin — who, apropos of nothing, was sporting a mean mustache in the locker room Wednesday — off of injured reserve. Flores preferred to talk about the players currently on the Patriots’ roster, but said McClellin would “try to fit the roles he’s played in the past, potentially.”

Throughout his career, McClellin has played inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end. So, if the Patriots feel they need help in one specific area in the front seven, that’s probably where they’ll stick McClellin.

The Patriots will continue to try to make the best of a bad situation without Hightower, who was their best linebacker, most consistent pass rusher and a defensive leader. They have the depth to replace him, and after the Patriots’ Week 9 bye, the group will have to prove their performance Sunday was not just a mirage.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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