Patriots Mailbag: Could Dont’a Hightower Position Switch Help Defense?


September 28, 2018

No one wants the 2018 Patriots defense to be anywhere near as bad as New England’s 2011’s unit. To quote Bill Belichick, “I’m not saying that.”

That was the year, if you don’t remember, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick filtered through defensive backs like … well, like Belichick is going through wide receivers this season.

But if any good would come of similar defensive struggles, it would be position switches. Is there anything more fun than position switches?!

All logic is suddenly out the window. A player’s ceiling is suddenly sky high, and his floor is below the foundation. Was it not fun to watch Julian Edelman play slot cornerback and Matthew Slater at safety? Who wouldn’t want to see Cyrus Jones playing slot receiver or Jacob Hollister move to weak-side linebacker? (This adoration probably stems from too many hours spent playing “Madden NFL” and “NCAA Football” on PlayStation 2, by the way.)

We’ll kick off this week’s mailbag with a question on a position switch. Let’s get wild.

Could moving Hightower to DE actually be beneficial?
— @WitherSpartanIV
This idea has been floating around in the ether for a couple weeks now, but former Patriots exec Mike Lombardi notably said it this week.

It could be beneficial, and Hightower’s done it before. But can the Patriots do it without acquiring another linebacker after placing rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley on injured reserve?

If Hightower moves to the edge, that puts Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy at linebacker. Hightower’s lack of speed would be less glaring on the edge, and he should be a more dependable run defender than any defensive end who’s been on the roster not named Trey Flowers.

Hightower isn’t an elite pass rusher from the edge — he’s better as a blitzer — but the Patriots could mix and match players on third down to get pressure. And it’s not as if the Patriots’ pass rushers are lighting the world on fire rushing from the edge. Hightower would probably be just as good as any of them.

Would the Patriots move Hightower, however, after acquiring veteran edge defender John Simon? If the Patriots were going to move Hightower, then they likely would have signed a linebacker rather than a pass rusher. Simon might be a quality under-the-radar addition.

What are John Simon’s strengths and weaknesses? Can he be an impact player and if so where does he help- against the run? In coverage?
— @thosbeanstho
Simon should help a significant amount. He’s unlikely to start right away, but he’s a solid rotational player who should be able to help out as a pass rusher and edge-setter. Pro Football Focus graded him better as a run defender than pass rusher, but he can get some pressure after the quarterback.

He doesn’t have the potential of Derek Rivers or Deatrich Wise Jr., but he could be a more dependable player right now. It’s not out of the question that he could be a starter within a few weeks with experience under his belt.

Do you think that problem with draft picks (Injuries/2017) is going to cost us a lot in the future? Guys are getting older (DBs, Boomtower – seems like it’s happening now) and have no good replacement. Do you think that’s why BB is getting stacked at the 2019 (inc. comp. picks)?
— @KubaKazula
It’s already hurting the Patriots. Their lack of depth on defense and at wide receiver is showing. Some of the core pieces on defense are getting older and aren’t quite as fast, and they have no one to fill in or rotate. The Patriots also banked on major strides from young defensive ends like Wise Jr., Rivers and Keionta Davis  Keionta Davis, Wise Jr. and Rivers that just haven’t happened yet.

We’ll go through the Patriots’ drafting issues later, but losing a first-round pick to Deflategate hurt. Hindsight is 20/20, but trading for Brandin Cooks, then trading him, might have been ill-advised. That just pushed the development of a first-round pick back a year. The Patriots also haven’t hit on early-round picks like Dominique Easley, Cyrus Jones, Antonio Garcia or Rivers. It’s also less than ideal that the Patriots are currently only playing one 2018 draft pick — running back Sony Michel.

The Patriots certainly found ways to acquire many other quality players. But imagine if they were also finding better success in the draft?

Do you think the Patriots will bring in another RB after the loss of Rex Burkhead? #MailDoug
— @JMartinezBKN
They pretty much have to, even though it’s too late this week.

What happens if Michel, who already dealt with knee injuries this summer, goes down again?

The Patriots can’t rely on James White and Kenjon Barner as their early-down running backs. It would make a lot of sense to sign Orleans Darkwa if he’s healthy.

What?s the split percentage between James White and Sony Michel? #MailDoug
— @Mpls_Scott
It should be close to 50-50 until the Patriots can acquire another running back to help out on early downs. White currently is playing 51.63 percent of offensive snaps. He’s never played more than 39 percent of offensive snaps in a season.

A 50 percent split seems really high for Michel, but what else are the Patriots going to do in Week 4 with Burkhead on injured reserve? How many snaps could Kenjon Barner possibly play?

Thoughts on Sony Michel long term?

I feel that he?s got some rust on the legs given he didn?t practice at all during pre-season.
— @MikeJGallant
Agreed. Michel showed a lot more speed, burst and shiftiness in college at Georgia than he has through two games with the Patriots.

There are a few reasons for that. First, Michel missed most of training camp and all of the preseason. Second, he’s being hesitant as he continues to try to learn the Patriots’ offense. He’s also terrified to fumble. Third, NFL players are faster. So, he’s bound to look slower against better competition.

Once he knocks off the rust and gets more comfortable, he’ll start to play better.

Can you predict a few trade scenarios that would make sense for the Pats prior to week 8?
— @IrshadZahidi
This guy’s got a good thought:

With the playing time in reddick and buchaneon in Arizona diminished, do you think BB explores the idea of trading for them like he did with Ayers few years back?
— @FirstSonMA
Haason Reddick, the Arizona Cardinals’ 13th overall pick in 2017, has played 21 defensive snaps all season. He’s played just seven snaps in the last two games.

Deone Bucannon, a safety-turned-linebacker, has played just 105 defensive snaps this season. He played one defensive snap in Week 3.

Either player would add some much-needed speed into the Patriots’ suddenly depleted linebacker corps.

If new Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks doesn’t think Reddick and Bucannon are system fits, then the Patriots should call up general manager Steve Keim and strike a deal. The Patriots have had success adding linebackers via trade through the years. Jonathan Casillas, Akeem Ayers, Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers all worked out pretty well.

How is it that two-thirds of the Patriots’ 2018 draft class has already found themselves on injured reserve? #MailDoug
— @TeamCrazyMatt
It’s pretty crazy, right? The Patriots either have bad luck, take too many risks or need someone else to start giving these players physical examinations. Since 2014, injuries have forced the following players to lose seasons, be cut or retire: Dominique Easley (cut), Bryan Stork (retired), Trey Flowers (IR in 2015), Tre’ Jackson (PUP in 2016), A.J. Derby (IR in 2015), Darryl Roberts (IR in 2015), Cyrus Jones (IR in 2017), Vincent Valentine (IR in 2017), Malcolm Mitchell (IR in 2017), Derek Rivers (IR in 2017), Antonio Garcia (NFI in 2017), Isaiah Wynn (IR in 2018), Duke Dawson (IR in 2018), Ja’Whaun Bentley (IR in 2018), Christian Sam (IR in 2018), Braxton Berrios (IR in 2018) and Ryan Izzo (IR in 2018).

You can throw Jimmy Garoppolo, who tore his ACL last week, on that list too if you want. Just don’t tell Mike Giardi.

Let’s go rapid fire.

What’s your SoundCloud rapper name? And what would Tom Brady’s be?
— @zacxwolf
They all have to start with Lil’, right?

Brady’s would have to be Lil’ Pliability. Maybe Pliab-lil’-ity?

I don’t know about mine. Lil’ Kyed? Lil’ MailDoug? Lil’ Doug?

Knowing what we know so far and considering Edelman and Gordon additions will the Patriots win the AFC east?
— @njjosselyn

Why exactly is Bentley going to IR? Haven’t seen it stated anywhere yet
— @BoomstickMcGee
It appeared Bentley injured his shoulder or pec late in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ loss to the Lions.

Will the pats go after Bell #MailDoug
— @BC101089
They can’t. His franchise tag hit is going to be $14.5 million, and the Patriots have less than $3.6 million in cap space.

It would be nearly impossible to even acquire him via trade then sign him to a long-term deal where his 2018 cap hit would be less than $3.6 million.

Crazy and irrational question probably, but do you think DeMarco Murray could get the Pats 1 good season as a big back role? They could limit his reps.. keep him fresh?
— @whealan13
Not a terrible idea.

If you were a football player what position would you play and why
— @stowzi
I think I’d have to play wide receiver. I wouldn’t get much separation, but, well, never mind.

Do you think it?s funny every time Bill does a press conference he pushes the microphones down?
— @JustinMH90
I actually do, even though it’s kind of frustrating that no one can hear him. But it is funny.

What will the patriots record be this year
— @celticsin1
I’ll keep saying 12-4 until the Patriots have five losses.

The Pats currently have 4ish mill in cap space. They saved 3 million by not signing Danny Playoff Amendola, and instead signed Cordarelle Patterson who is 5-36 after 3 games. Agree that was a mistake?
— @JosBaskinRobin
The Patriots were never going to pay Danny Amendola (two years, $12 million) more than Julian Edelman (two years, $11 million) and Chris Hogan (three years, $12 million).

I agree with the Patterson trade, and the amount of money he’s eating up on the salary cap, is looking regrettable.

@DougKyed Ryder Cup… Who ya got? #maildoug
— @KP_Booth

How many questions have you answered while doing mailbag? #MailDoug
— @Kid_From_Quincy
Ever? At least 20.

Who has a better roster, Alabama or NE? Could Alabama beat the Patriots?
— @jvmenendez12
Oof. Has it gotten that bad?

I’m going to ignore your question, though, and just bring up how crazy it is that Kenyan Drake is an NFL starting running back who was nothing more than a role player at Alabama. That’s how loaded that college squad is year in and year out.

Do you have any pregame rituals? Are you superstitious?
— @IrshadZahidi
My only pregame ritual is to tell myself I’m going to get to the stadium at a certain time and then wind up leaving my house or hotel five minutes before I was supposed to get there.

Favorite number?
— @pereira_report
Favorite numbers are 5 and 24.

I lived in Seattle until I was 11 years old. My reason for liking No. 24 is obvious. If anyone can guess why I like No. 5 I’ll be impressed. Tweet me your guesses @DougKyed.

Will Gordon play this weekend? Would make sense to give Miami another threat to worry about… is he healthy?
— @patriotpolitix
ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted we’d see Josh Gordon’s debut soon. I think that makes sense.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
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