Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 11/20/14

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick went to Alabama’s Pro Day on March 29th to see Safety Mark Barron and OLB Courtney Upshaw run through some drills, as they both had been linked to the Pats, and were not able to see them at the combine due to injuries.  They performed very well during the 40-yard dash and agility drills.  The Patriots felt both would fill a need as the secondary needed some help, as did the pass rush. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the draft. Mark Barron got drafted a lot sooner than anyone expected for a safety, #7 to Tampa Bay. Then the Pats did something not once, but twice in trading up to pick two players who will help a defense that ranked next to last in yards per game, passing yards per game, and showed at times why the pressure was so heavily on the shoulders of Tom Brady and the offense.  The Patriots moved up swapping picks with Cincinnati and giving them their 3rd round pick to select DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse. 

The second scenario really surprised people as the team swapped picks with Denver, adding their 4th round pick for inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower from that amazing Tide defense.  Hightower mainly played in the inside, but would, depending on the situation, go outside, drop back in coverage or rush the passer up the middle.  He was ranked right behind Boston College’s Luke Kuechly as one of the best inside linebackers in the draft.  Most had him going to Pittsburgh at 24, but when Stanford guard David DeCastro fell, the Steelers could not refuse and selected the big Cardinal guard, leaving an opening for the Patriots to trade up for Hightower, with a team where they have traded Laurence Maroney a couple of years ago for a 4th round pick (after that swap, they still wanted to trade with them?)

Hightower, 6’2, 265 lbs., played for two National Championship under Nick Saban (another under the Belichick tree) during his four years at Alabama (2009 and 2011).  In his freshman year he played in all 14 games, getting 12 starts at the weak side linebacker next to a 1st round pick in Rolando McClain (by Oakland), while earning Freshman All American awards. Hightower suffered a very bad knee injury (ACL, MCL and cartilage) in the fourth game of the season vs. Arkansas, and red shirted that year.  He came back in his junior year and led the #1 defense in the country in 5 statistical categories, replacing McClain the middle of the defense.  His senior season the Tide won their second National Championship as Hightower earned consensus first team All- American and All-SEC first-team selection.

Hightower will play alongside inside with Brandon Spikes as Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich are on the outside in a 3-4 scheme and in the 4-3 set up he will rotate with all four playing both inside and outside.  Hightower’s flexibility to play all schemes is a wonder why he was not seen to be high on the Patriots draft boards more often.  He adjusts to reads with very good instincts, which is must playing this position.

Hightower said in his press conference that he wants to be intimidating on defense, where quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, and even the lineman need to know where he is and account for him.  If they don’t, they meet him the hard way.


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