FOXBORO, Mass. — After the New England Patriots’ front seven was finished meeting Wednesday afternoon, the conversation spilled out into the locker room.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who’s in his seventh year in the Patriots’ system, held court with some of the newer and younger players on the roster. Defensive end Derek Rivers and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy were among the players leaning on a shelving unit in the middle of the Patriots’ locker room, picking Hightower’s brain about the intricacies of what to do and how to handle certain situations when they arise on the game field.
After struggling in two straight games, the Patriots’ defense is being proactive in taking strides to improve.
“I think that’s something that we’ve really taken more hands-on with trying to be a lot more detailed,” Hightower said Thursday. “We took it upon ourselves to kind of split up and spend more time on it. It kind of went on a little bit longer than we wanted it to, but really just trying to get everything down pat. When everybody knows what everyone else is doing, we’re able to play faster, so we’re trying to do everything we can to be more knowledgeable on anything that can happen.”
The Patriots’ defense isn’t all of a sudden going to become faster, quicker or deeper. So this is how they’re focusing on fixing problems that keep cropping up in games.
“A lot of times it will kind of help guys maybe see things or play things a lot quicker knowing what to expect and kind of what everybody else sees,” Hightower said. “Any time that all 11 guys can be on the same page and see the same thing at the same time, guys can play and react a little bit quicker. So, any time you can have that dialect outside the locker room, not necessarily with the coaches, but amongst yourselves to kind of know what we’re expecting being on the field together really helps.”
The Patriots have a new de facto defensive coordinator in Brian Flores, and they have plenty of new faces roaming the front seven. So, while the Patriots’ defense might not always have needed to have these conversations, they might make a big impact this season.
Hightower also was honest in his assessment of himself. There have been times Hightower has appeared slow on the game field. He believes he’s still improving as he recovers from last year’s season-ending injury.
“I’m elevating each week,” Hightower said. “Obviously it’s still early in the season. We all got a lot of work to do. Me, personally, I hold myself to a higher standard than that. Pushing off of last week, I had a good week but didn’t play great. Just want to continue to get better each week, and that’s all I can hope for.”
As Hightower improves, the rest of the front seven should around him. The Patriots’ defense also should be getting defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung back this week. Flowers and Chung should more than offset the loss of linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley to injured reserve.
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