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Transcript: Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty Press Conferences

New England Patriots Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Safety Devin McCourty address the media during their press conferences on Thursday, October 12, 2017


Q: Were you pleased with the progress the defense made last week against the Buccaneers?

DH: Obviously, when you see progress like that you're happy to see it. We came a short way but we've got a longer way to go. The season is a lot longer. Obviously, there were things that we liked and things that we didn't like. At the end of the day, that's football. Hopefully, [we're] just going to build on from last week.

Q: Do you have a preference between playing on the edge versus in the middle of the defense?

DH: No, I think that playing and being able to play in multiple spots, I mean, it helps us. I like it the most because it makes the quarterback, the coordinator - it makes them think what coverage or what we're doing. It puts us in different situations where we're able to force people's hands sometimes. The more you can do around here and the more confusing you can get with veteran quarterbacks and good offensive coordinators the better it is around here.

Q: Does more communication responsibility fall on your shoulders when you're in the middle versus on the edge?

DH: I think communication is on me whether I'm on the ball or not, but it's definitely a lot easier being in the middle. Being on the edge is kind of on an island. Last week was great on the ball or off the ball. I think in the linebacker room with me, KV [Kyle Van Noy], [Marquis] Flowers, David [Harris] and E-Rob [Elandon Roberts] - I think we've done a good job as far as trying to grow the front seven, the back end as far as communication and how we go about that. That helped last week so hopefully we'll just continue to build on that. Half the time it was us misaligned and wasn't communication, so if we can nip that in the bud and stop ourselves from shooting ourselves in the foot, that'll be big.

Q: Are you surprised at how long that communication process takes?

DH: I mean, it's different every year with the different players and who we're playing and how that other stuff goes. It starts as early as training camp and all of that stuff. It's easier when you have all of the guys on the same page. We've got that now. Malcom [Brown] and Trey [Flowers] and [Alan] Branch do a good job with the front and me, KV and E-Rob in the second level and then Devin [McCourty] and Du [Duron Harmon] and [Patrick] Chung in the back end. We have our communicators and we're starting to evolve. It took a little bit longer than we'd like but hopefully we'll grasp that and keep moving in the right direction and keep building and be a better and stronger defense each week

Q: It seemed like you guys played looser and a lot faster last week. Was that a point of emphasis?

DH: I think that was a big part of what was going on. I think that game plan-wise Matty P [Matt Patricia] and Bill [Belichick] did a great job as far as that. As far as just the communicators, guys taking charge and taking leadership whether it be me, or Dev, or KV, or Trey or whoever it was, or is, just getting people calm and playing our defense, our style. Last week was a lot faster and a lot more aggressive. If we were able to communicate and talk and get all of that stuff out of the way then we're able to play faster. It shouldn't have to come to that. It should be that every play. Like I said, we're building, hopefully. It's a little later than we'd like to but there's no time like the present.

Q: What has it been like working with David Harris and what has he added and contributed to the linebacker group?

DH: A lot of knowledge. When I first came into the league I watched a lot of him and a lot of [Jerod] Mayo before. Then whenever I got here and still learning from Mayo, we saw David twice a year so we would always see film on him. It's good to sit down with him. We sat down today and we talked a lot about football. It's just great knowing and seeing from a different perspective from a guy who knows and has seen so much and has played great football. To me one of the best linebackers that's played in the past couple of years. The production has always been there, but he's added so much really just knowledge and a different perspective as far as the defense goes and the front seven.

Q: Do you think he could make a good coach at this level?

DH: Absolutely. I mean, I'm not saying just linebacker coach. I'm saying like defensive coordinator-type stuff. I mean, coming from two different organizations back whenever he was at the Jets, guys know that if there's one thing about David it's that he's a real smart linebacker. I think that guys here saw that real quick and appreciate it. He's helped that other waves of guys that are coming in, so for him to come in and learn the playbook as well as he has and still help the younger guys like E-Rob and the second and third year guys in the secondary, so it really helps to have that extra bag of leadership in the back end.

Q: How physical is this Jets team with their running game?

DH: All around they have good playmakers and they do a good job of putting those guys in situations, whether it's [Bilal] Powell, or it's [Matt] Forte or [Elijah] McGuire even. Sometimes you see them, their big runs, it's just sometimes they don't get touched or it's a make-one-guy-miss type of thing. They just do a good job of that, whether it's [Jermaine] Kearse over the middle or whatever it is. They just do a good job of breaking tackles and getting the ball north and south.

Q: What does it say about David Harris that he is taking guys under his wing and helping them despite the fact that he has not seen as much playing time himself?

DH: I think that says a lot about him. Not just as a football player but as a person, as well. You can take it as younger guys trying to take food out of his kid's mouth or whatever, but David doesn't see it as that. He's taking it as a Patriot. He's taking it for what it is and what it's worth. It's a long season. You never know what's going to happen or when his number is going to be called. One thing is for certain, that whenever his number is called David is going to be ready. It's not going to be 'Can he still do it?' or 'Is he capable of doing it?' I mean, everything's there. He's definitely keeping a positive mindset and I know myself and a lot of the younger guys appreciate what he does and what he brings to this team.

Q: Do you feel like your conditioning is where you'd like it to be given that you missed some time earlier in the season?

DH: No. No, I mean, just missing time like that is time that I'm not going to get back, time that I missed on the field with my teammates, that chemistry that I missed, but my experience in the defense helps me a little bit more than most. Every rep that I can get whether it's in there with [Deatrich] Wise, or [Adam] Butler, or [Cassius] Marsh or just guys that I'm not in there with, I take full advantage of that. Even today watching film I got the new guys right around me so we're all talking and we're communicating and we're trying to progress as a defense. It's not a one-man thing. We're not depending on one person or anything like that. We're only as good as our weakest link so we're just trying to keep everybody as sharp as we can.


Q: You are near the top of league in number of tackles so far this season. Has that taken a toll on your body?

DM: No, I mean, age has taken more of a toll on me physically, you know. But, no, I mean, I'm like everybody else in the locker room. You prepare for the season, prepare to be out there playing in whatever role. So honestly, it's been fun running around, making tackles. This year I've been in a couple different roles where it's not as bad as it sounds - like I'm 15 yards deep on every play and end up with 42 tackles. I've been down in the box a little bit more and been able to be around the ball, so I've enjoyed it. I don't even think about the tackle totals and all of that. 

Q: Why do you enjoy that?

DM: You know, free safety, sometimes it gets a little boring back there, but being up there and still being able to be free safety, to me, gives me an advantage to use everything I do - watching film, studying and seeing what teams like to do. Usually, when I'm in the middle, I'm trying to alert guys and do it as much as I can that way. But being down, I'm actually getting to use some of the things I see and things that show up from watching film that's not only just reading the quarterback or route recognition, but it's actually being in the box, knowing motions and then all those different things like that - just trying to play off that. So, I've enjoyed that. 

Q: When you were a free agent, you were sought after for your ability to cover ground. Can you still do that when you're playing closer to the line?
DM: Yeah, I mean, I've had some plays where I got to open up and run a little bit, even closer to the line of scrimmage. But, now that free agency's over, if I can't do it, good thing I already signed.

Q: Do you have to prepare differently or be physically stronger for that role?

DM: No, I'm always one of the strongest guys on the team. No, I mean, I always just do the same thing. I think your body always takes a beating throughout a 16-game season, so it's always rehabbing, trying to get a little bit stronger and I've continued to try to do that. For us, honestly, we don't know - like it's not like I was in the offseason like, 'Yeah, my role is ...' It can change week-by-week depending on how well we're doing. So, you turn on the film. Between myself and [Patrick] Chung, you know, we could be anywhere in our defense, so there is no way to prepare differently as far as working out or any of that. Film wise, I always just kind of watch the offense overall. To me, when you play in the middle of the field or when you play safety, you have to do so much communicating that you've got to kind of watch the whole offense. You can't just pick a guy or just pass plays. You've got to kind of be in tune to everything because a lot of communication falls on either KV [Kyle Van Noy], E-Rob [Elandon Roberts] or High [Dont'a Hightower] in the middle, and then myself, Chung and Duron [Harmon] when we're in there at safety.

Q: This summer, you said that you, Chung and Harmon are almost interchangeable in this defense. Over the first five games, has that played out the way you thought it would?

DM: Yeah, I think the good thing about all three of us is we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we all know each other's well. So, there's times where the defense calls for one of us to be here or the other, and we'll switch positions in the defense just because of the formation they come out in. We'll say, 'Alright, you're better at that. You're better at this. Alright, switch.' I think us being in the same system for a couple years together now allows us to do that really without even thinking. It's just natural. Obviously, film and being out there on the practice field definitely helps too, but now I think we're all so comfortable with playing with each other that it's easy for us to just interchange roles sometimes that the defense doesn't call just by our knowledge, and also it helps that Matty P [Matt Patricia] allows us to do that. 

Q: Do you feel that the communication has improved over the last several weeks?

DM: Yeah, I think we've gotten better at it, and I've also said all our mistakes weren't just communication. Some of it was just executing where we all knew what we were supposed to do. It was well-communicated, and we just didn't all do our job. I think that's gotten better with, for one, all of us being on the same page, and then every player individually going out there and executing our job. That's how we're going to be a good football team. It's everybody being on the same page and then going out there, doing everything we practiced, everything we've worked so hard at, going out there and executing it. I think the thing is we know we've got the guys to do it. We've just got to do it consistently now, week-in and week-out.

Q: How did you become a technically sound tackler? What is the mentality you have to have at your position to make good form tackles as opposed to impact hits?

DM: Yeah, I guess I should thank my Pop Warner coach from back in the day. Just that's always how I've tackled. I don't know technique-wise, just I've always tackled the same. I've never even really thought about how I tackle or any of that. From the physical part and all of that, it's just to me the mentality you've got to just go out there and say, 'I've got to get a guy on the ground.' Especially in the secondary, a lot of your tackles are usually going to be in the open field, one-on-one tackles, so you can't be out there thinking about making a pretty tackle or having the ground ooh and ahh. You get some of these guys out there like last week, we're out there with DeSean Jackson and Doug Martin. Those guys are tough to bring down in the perfect situation. You've just got to come up there and I've always said, especially at free safety, [if] a guy breaks out, you've got to get him on the ground somehow. I mean, 80 percent of the time, it's probably not going to look good, but the thing is you tackle a guy for 15, 20 yards is a lot better than a guy making you miss in the middle of the field because now we're talking 70 yards, 60 yards. We're talking big-play touchdown. That's something that I always think about when I'm in the middle is, for one, getting to a guy fast before he has time to really try to set me up, and then just anyway I can. We played Seattle back in the Super Bowl and Marshawn Lynch broke out. I knew he was going to probably run me over, but it was, 'Can I grab his leg before he gets out of this thing?' To me, that's a mentality for me as a safety is always get a guy on the ground.

Q: What are some of the things that Patrick Chung does well that allowed him to have the game that he did against Tampa Bay?

DM: I mean, everything. I mean, last week you saw him cover tight ends, cover [Adam] Humphries in the slot. You probably won't find many guys that can do that, and then also with bigger people, he played strong safety, which is kind of like a linebacker role for us. Just in the course of a game, him being in the box, him being out on the perimeter, him covering tight ends, him playing deep - so, to me, it's his versatility of being able to do that and then also playing in the kicking game. Over the last couple of years, he's probably been our most versatile player defensively that we kind of just plug in anywhere. Depending on how many corners we have up or how many safeties or how many linebackers, he's always able to kind of switch and change his role for whatever week we have or whatever the strengths are of our opponent. So, you can't really teach what he's been able to do and how he's played out there. It's a big help to our defense when he's out there playing different roles.

Q: Your unit seemed to be playing faster last week. Is that a result of communication or scheme?

DM: No, I mean, we ran a lot of the calls we've been running all year. I said after the game, I think everyone kind of felt that feeling of like our backs against the wall where it was like, 'Let's let it rip.' It's time. There's no more, really, new guys - like we've all been here for a while. We've all been in this system now. We've kind of run the same thing since April. That's plenty of time to understand what we're doing defensively. Let's just go out there and let it fly. I think our plan now is that it's not just last Thursday. It's now this is who we've become for the rest of the season and our coaching staff is on us about being aggressive, playing fast. I think after the Carolina game, you come out of a game like that, that's the only response. We didn't turn on the film and say, 'Dang, if we had this scheme in or that scheme.' Like that was just all us as players of not playing well and doing what we need to do. That was good to see guys just coming out with the mentality of we're going to play fast, we're going to play hard and if we're wrong, let's all be wrong together and that will make us right.

Q: Is it any different preparing for a division opponent knowing you're fighting for that first place spot and will see each other again?

DM: You've always got to put a lot in a division game. We always talk about how important it is. You're playing in the division. This week is happens to be for first place. That really doesn't matter. We've got a lot of time left in this season, but it's a chance to move a game ahead and put a division team behind you a little bit, and then let alone it's the Jets versus Patriots. There's really no love lost in this game, and it will always be a good game when we go down there and try to win on the road. It's tough, but I think guys have realized - even with the extra time that we've tried to get ahead and put a lot of time in to knowing them, like you said, especially because we know we'll see them again. If we can know them well now, it will only help the second time we play them. I think guys are excited about that and understand how important this is. It will be fun to go out there, and we've got to just make sure we execute Sunday.

Q: You were wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt on Monday, and Hightower was wearing the same one today. Is he wearing your shirt?

DM: Definitely not my shirt. He probably can't fit into many of my T-shirts, but I like to say I'm a little bit of trendsetter. So, High is a smart guy, follows the right guys.

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