After a year without Dont'a Hightower, one of the most welcomed sights at training camp was the familiar no. 54 with the linebacking group. Hightower's presence was sorely missed in 2020, but even his coaches wondered how the vet would look after a season away.
With a strong showing in Houston, Hightower looks like he's rounding into a familiar form, as he aggressively took on blockers and found his way through gaps to disturb the Texans' ground game. Even when he wasn't making the tackles, he was blowing up plays and it's great news for a Patriots defense that is about to face the potent Dallas Cowboys offense.
"I'm gonna do whatever I need to do for the team," said Hightower, "I'm just gonna do my job, I'm a trash man. I just play football... As long as I'm doing my job and putting my teammates in spots. Whether it's a pick game or making the right stunt call, then I'm good.
"Just doing the hard stuff. Just want to do my job and win."
"I think High is a really good player and he does do a lot of dirty jobs for us but he makes it look good," said Matthew Judon on Wednesday when asked about Hightower. "How he takes on offensive blocks and defeats them, he does a lot of stuff for our defense."
Judon is second in the NFL with 6.5 sacks, but has been one of few consistent bright spots early on, as the Patriots defense has played whack-a-mole with their run D, third-down work and making the clutch kinds of plays. They've shown they can do all of them, but now they must put it all together.
"I feel like there's been progress, obviously there's always room for improvement," said Hightower. "I think having a set rotation of guys, we're now starting to build that chemistry and that goes a long way. Even though me and Kyle and Jamie, some guys have already been in the system sometimes it still takes a little time."
Now, Hightower and Judon are turning their attention to Dak Prescott and a loaded Cowboys offense.
"Dak makes it hard because he's playing really good football," said Judon. "Right now, he's reading defenses very well and he's getting the ball out of his hands fast to his wide receivers. I don't know if it's Dak making the wide receivers look good or the wide receivers making Dak look good but it's working."
"All 11 guys got to be on point this week. All 11 guys."
Shaq Mason returned to practice in a nice boost for the offensive line but Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn remain absent. Shaun Wade was also not spotted after suffering a concussion last week. A new no. 30 was present with the safeties as Ian Rapoport reports that Sean Davis has joined the practice squad.