On any given snap Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower could be a completely different player.
The versatile 6-foot-3 270-pounder lines up at more spots than any linebacker on the roster. His most common position is on the strong side in the 4-3 setup but certain circumstances call for different assignments. Hightower has moved to middle linebacker when Jamie Collins subs in for Brandon Spikes and the Alabama product can swing outside to rush the quarterback in the 3-4.

Hightower can be used on all downs too. He hasn’t perfectly mastered any one area coming into his second season in the NFL but Hightower is comfortable enough to play in any situation.
“I love it” Hightower said. “I love the fact that I can be versatile in different kinds of ways being able to rush the quarterback being able to cover being able to run block being able to play in different scenarios and different situations.
“I like being versatile. I like moving around on the field. I might be a middle linebacker. I might be a Sam or Jack or might be outside. You never know. That’s the fun in football.”
Hightower’s physicality makes him extremely visible on the field but his football knowledge and dedication allow him to succeed in the meeting rooms. He learned coach Bill Belichick’s system through Nick Saban at Alabama and Hightower felt an instant comfort level the first time he even opened his playbook in rookie camp.
The responsibilities aren’t a burden either — far from it actually. Hightower has to learn how to play each of those positions but he’d be doing it anyway. When Hightower breaks down plays he doesn’t just zero in on his duties. He actually studies everyone’s assignments in order to better understand the entire defense.
Knowing your job is one thing but understanding the entire concept can be integral to making the right decision when the offense changes the play on the fly.

“Really that’s the only way that I’ve been able to learn any system” Hightower said. “The best way to learn a defense and a philosophy is to learn why you’re doing that particular coverage — why you’re doing Cover 2 what can beat Cover 2 — because once you learn that you’ll never forget what you have to do your responsibility where your help is.

“Being able to know what’s going on that specific play that helps you and that can get you to play a whole lot faster.”
Hightower also studies the vocal checks on the field. For instance if defensive tackle Vince Wilfork calls for the linemen to stunt before the snap Hightower needs to understand which gaps will be occupied and which ones will turn into rush lanes.