Dont’a Hightower has been one of the bright spots during New England Patriots training camp. Last season, the linebacker out of Alabama was forced to step up early in the season when defensive captain Vince Wilfork was sidelined for the season due to injury. The defense took another hit later in the season when Jerod Mayo tore his pectoral muscle, ending his season on Oct. 13.
This left Hightower leading the defense of a team that drafted him just a year earlier.
One year later, all of these players are back and ready to tackle the upcoming season, but Hightower has shown growth in his game. While the injuries of last season undoubtedly affected the success — of lack thereof — of the Patriots’ defense, they may have been the best thing to happen to Hightower and his game, setting him up to be a top defender for New England during the 2014 season.
Last season was not a terrible one for Hightower, who led the Patriots with 97 combined tackles. This season, he should have some help from the returning veterans but also new, young talent. Jamie Collins, a fellow linebacker out of Southern Mississippi, also has had a strong showing at training camp. The two defenders are among some of the youngest players on the roster, and if they continue to play at their current level into this season and beyond, they may be the Wilfork and Mayo of the future.
Despite being just 24 years old, Hightower proved his ability to lead a defense in a time when it was most crucial. The leadership skills he was forced to acquire last year should help him find continued success in this new season. If training camp is an omen for what’s to come, fans should be excited to see what Hightower will bring the table in 2014.