FOXBORO — At 28 years old, Dont’a Hightower isn’t exactly an elder statesman.
But the New England Patriots linebacker also is one of the team’s longest-tenured defensive players, and as he enters his seventh NFL season, he’s starting to feel like the uncle of the group.
“They’re trying to get me in a rocking chair in here, man,” Hightower said after Monday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “I ain’t that old.”
Hightower is plenty old enough to share his knowledge with the Patriots’ rookies, though. The veteran linebacker was spotted chatting with rookie linebacker Christian Sam while walking off the practice field Monday.
“He was just asking about my transition (from college to the NFL) my first year. Just asking for a little advice,” Hightower said of the exchange. “That’s one thing that we’re good on — not just this defense but this team — is wanting to help one another, whether it’s young or old. We’re all able to learn from each other, from different techniques to different experiences in practice.”
Hightower is paying it forward; the Alabama product soaked up advice from veteran New England linebackers like Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes when he entered the league in 2012. Now in a mentor role, Hightower can appreciate young players coming to him for pointers.
“I just kind of gave him my experience and how it was when I came in and the older guys I had with (Niko) Koutouvides, Spikes and Mayo and just how that transition from OTAs to training camp to preseason — how all that stuff kind of affects you,” Hightower said.
“Sam is a good kid. He’s obviously good at learning and willing to ask those extra questions, so anything I can do for those young boys — I guess I’m the old head.”
Another one of those “young boys” Hightower has taken under his wing is rookie ‘backer Ja’Whaun Bentley, who had a solid showing Thursday in his Patriots preseason debut.
“He’s going to be a good ballplayer,” Hightower said of Bentley. “The way he plays is the way he practices, so he’s definitely one of the guys who literally takes the practice execution becomes game reality to that extent.
“He’s a young guy, he’s eager to learn, very smart in the classroom, always asking questions. I mean, he can cover, he can do a little bit of everything.”
As for Hightower: The Patriots linebacker played 27 snaps in New England’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins last Thursday and looked sharp after having his 2017 season cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle.
So, he’s not ready for that rocking chair just yet.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images