While the Patriots lost several players to opt-outs and free agency last season, it became clear who missed the most.
Without the Donta Hightower, the Pats defense was hullless. The unit looked like it couldn’t find its way to the quarterback and ball carrier without the use of GPS.
That’s the hightower effect.
Without their star linebacker, the Patriots lacked a defensive navigation system. Hightower is the leader of the front seven, which makes the player defense feel confident about closing the offense.
“Whenever you have a smart guy like Hightower who is able to cross the white lines, you feel comfortable,” said linebackers coach Jerrod Mayo. “Like, this guy is going to make the right decision nine times out of 10.”
Especially in big games, it’s almost a given that Hightower will make a play that will have a huge impact on the outcome.
The huddle has an added comfort and confidence level when the hightower is on the field, directing traffic and driving the enemy’s offense to the point that he knows what the quarterback will do to play the game.
Speaking about Hightower a few years ago, Belichick said, “Sometimes players, maybe they can’t even tell you how they know what’s the right thing to do, they just know what’s the right thing to do.” “Sometimes they guess it. Sometimes it just comes to them naturally.”
While Hightower may not be the most athletic linebacker in the league, his instincts allow him to play fast and outperform everyone around him. Known as “Mr.” February ”Thanks to Belichick, Hightower makes important plays in important games, because he always knows what’s coming.
“What separates great players from good players is what many people think is athleticism. But, to me, its the tendency,” said NBC analyst Rodney Harrison, the former Patriot star.
“You look at those great, great players who had tremendous instincts, Ray Lewis, Jr. Siu, Ed Reed, those guys, or Teddy Bruschi, who had great instincts. What they lacked in physical talent, they made up for it with great ease. accomplished by. Those are the things you can’t teach as well as get a feel for the game.”
Harrison said Hightower demonstrates those propensities for the game and the abstract feel. The linebacker has the ability to diagnose what is coming from his observations on the line.
“Looking at a tackle, looking at his forearms, and seeing all the nerves coming out, you know it’s a run play, with all the different keys,” Harrison said. “That’s what you get from players like Hightower.”
The Patriots defensive leader and signal-caller recently put out a social media post that identified the NFL’s top off-the-ball linebackers with the most quarterback pressure since 2012. Naturally, Hightower topped that list with 191 – despite the fact that it missed a year.
Perhaps, like Stephen Gilmore, who has been in a contract dispute, Hightower posted to draw attention to his position in that category being the lowest-paid in the top-five, which included Tampa Bay’s LaVont David, Seattle’s Bobby Wagner included. DeMario Davis of New Orleans and Jamie Collins of Detroit. Or, it could also be seen as a reason not to expect a pay cut to stay in Foxboro. Hightower is in the final year of a contract that sees him pay $8 million this season.
Whatever the motives behind the post, Hightower remains a vital member of the defense, having missed badly last season.
While it’s hard to know exactly how much impact – if any – taking a year off will be good or bad at Hightower, there’s no disputing what kind of impact and impact it has on the defense when he is in the lineup. .
“The thing you miss, the thing that’s underestimated is experience and belief hightowers,” Harrison said. “Even if you see that Hightower is slowing down, he’s still extremely smart, like Junior[Cu]was; he’s still in the right place at the right time, like Teddy was. Still a very clever player, and everything sounds fundamentally, like Willie McGinnest does.
“When you see a guy who is so consistent, like (Tom) Brady, people respect him,” Harrison said. “People respect that consistency, the positive attitude they bring, encouragement to young players and respect their presence, just be around them. Even though he is not on the field, he is telling people that when they come off the field is what he sees. He is the leader. That’s the hightower.”