It’s no coincidence that Bill Belichick and the Patriots have drafted linebackers who can cover, stop the run and blitz early two seasons in a row. In 2012, Dont’a Hightower was drafted No. 25 overall in the first round out of Alabama. He had experience playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker and as a defensive end rushing off the edge. This year, Jamie Collins was the team’s first pick in the draft. Collins had similar versatility at Southern Miss, playing outside linebacker, defensive end and safety. When New England drafted Collins, Belichick mentioned Hightower’s versatility on multiple occasions. “It’s similar but I would say different than Hightower, but there’s some similarities,” Belichick said about Collins’ versatility on April 26. “Dont’a did that as well — played inside, played outside, played defensive end in their nickel package at Alabama [in 2011].” By having versatility on defense, Belichick can choose to play the best 11 players rather than having to fit one player into one specific position. Hightower can play multiple roles in a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. “If he can do multiple things and do them at a high level, maybe he’ll go where he’s needed or maybe he’ll go where he’s best,” Belichick said about Collins on April 27. “It’s similar to what we did with Hightower last year. There are a lot of things he did, what he ended up doing and with [Rob] Ninkovich for that matter. What Rob did one year and what he did another year and what he might do from game to game, it could be a little bit different.” Ninkovich is another player that can fit into whatever role serves him best from game to game. In 2011, he was the team’s starting strong-side linebacker. In 2012, Hightower took that role, which kicked Ninkovich to strong-side defensive end. Belichick determined that it was important to have Ninkovich on the field in both seasons, even if it might not have been at his best position.
Dont’a Hightower Is Happy to Be With Patriots to Showcase His Versatility at Linebacker
NESN | May 18