The Patriots made a flurry of free-agent signings this offseason but arguably two of their biggest additions to the 2020 team are players that were in New England two short seasons ago.
Patriots captain Dont’a Hightower has returned to the fold after opting out last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Kyle Van Noy, who spent the 2020 season in South Beach with the Miami Dolphins, also opted for colder winters and returned during free agency.
And having those two versatile linebackers back in the mix has provided the group an undeniable lift.
“It’s been great to have both of them back,” Bill Belichick said prior to Wednesday’s training camp practice at Gillette Stadium. “Both very instinctive players as well as have a good grasp and understanding of our defensive system. But beyond that, they’re able to process information. A lot of it new looks, new situations and make good decisions and also help their teammates execute in those situations as well through good communication or anticipation of a problem that they can recognize and adjust to pretty quickly. So yeah, it’s been great having those guys.”
Belichick noted in June how Hightower, specifically, fit in rather quickly upon taking the field for the first time since the 2019 season. Hightower, who earned his second Pro Bowl bid in 2019, has been among the Patriots most productive defensive players since his arrival in 2012.
Van Noy proved to be a perfect fit in Belichick’s defensive scheme during his first go-round in New England, as well. Van Noy, similar to Hightower, has the ability to set the edge, patrol the middle of the field and get after the quarterback.
Patriots outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick echoed his father’s sentiments Wednesday.
“It’s fantastic to have those guys back. I’ve seen nothing but positive things in them coming back and not only picking up where they left off, but continuing to accelerate and lead the guys in that room,” Steve Belichick said.
Hightower and Van Noy are just two pieces to the Patriots veteran defensive group now. New England went out in free agency and brought in pieces to help one of the league’s worst run defenses in 2020 and while doing so added another veteran edge rusher in former Baltimore Raven Matt Judon.
“We got a lot of good perspectives in that room. Older players, veteran players, experienced players who have played a lot of ball in big games,” Steve Belichick said. “And yeah, those guys bring a very good perspective to everybody in the room, both to the younger guys and to each other. So those guys (Hightower, Van Noy) have been great. Very happy to have them back.”
The Patriots defense certainly will be better for it, too.