PATRIOTS LINEBACKER DONT'A HIGHTOWER
Q: What's it like being back out on the field?
DH: It feels good. It's been a while. It feels good to get my feet wet, get my feet back under me. It feels good to be out there with my teammates, new and old. Just ready to keep moving forward and getting better.
Q: Do you feel limited at all?
DH: No, not at all. I've been doing everything since OTAs started. Still rehabbing and still getting my extra lifts and all that other good stuff in, but as far as how I feel, I feel good. I'm still going to continue to do that - a lot of preventive work throughout the season - so I'm just concentrating on staying healthy.
Q: At what point did you feel like you were back to being yourself?
DH: I mean, I'm still working. You know, I'm not going to say I'm 100 percent, but I feel good, no problems. So, I'm going to stay with Jimbo [Jim Whalen] and Flo [Brian Flores] and just stay on what I'm doing right now and hopefully just keep moving forward.
Q: What was it like for you to miss the playoffs last year?
DH: It hurt, but I was just trying to do what I could do. Not much in the moment was going to do much about it. So, I still talked to Kyle [Van Noy] and E-Rob [Elandon Roberts] and those guys and gave them my ear when I could. But it hurt and stuff, but it just goes to show you're one play away from missing. You know, you're used to missing a couple games and being able to fight through it, but this year I wasn't able to do that. So, I'm trying to take every measure I can to prevent that from happening again.
Q: Was it tough to see your teammates struggle in the final game and not be out there to help them?
DH: Absolutely, man. You know, to say me playing in the game, that would have changed a big output of the game, that's definitely not what I'm saying. Philly is a damn good team and they went out and they proved that. But, man, it did, but there's not much I can do about that now. Again, all I can do is just concentrating on doing what I can do and just trying to stay healthy.
Q: Do you know when you will be back to 100 percent?
DH: I don't have any numbers, percentages - none of that. I just know that I feel great right now, I'm moving around, I'm not having any problems. I mean, I won't know how I really feel until we get pads on. I mean, 7-on-7 is for receivers and DBs, and that's not my thing. So, I won't know until I get the pads on.
Q: But you're confident you will be there for the season opener?
DH: I mean, you're trying to get me to give you a state. I don't have one. I plan on being out there for everything.
Q: What is your reaction to people taking shots at the atmosphere of this team?
DH: I mean, to each his own. I don't really have anything to say to them. I mean, guys here, I know - I mean, it's not for everybody. It's definitely harder than most places, but I mean, that's part of it. A lot of guys know that when they come here. But, I mean, in the locker room, it's not Bill's [Belichick] job to make this fun and this atmosphere fun; it's the guys around it. Every guy in that locker room, I love like a brother. We have fun, whether it's out here struggling together - blood, sweat and tears - or we're back in the locker room or we're hanging out outside of football. So, there's a time and place for everything, but we know whenever we walk through the building, it's time to work.
Q: You may look at this program differently than others given your football background under Nick Saban at Alabama and now all these years with Bill Belichick. Do guys coming in from other situations have to kind of learn how to get their minds around this style here?
DH: I think so, but like you said, I was with Nick and Nick and Bill are like two peas in a pod. A lot of guys don't really have a problem. If you want to get better you don't mind sacrificing a little bit, which that stuff sucks sometimes. At the end of the day when you know that you've done all that you can do and you go out on Sunday or Monday and you're winning those games and you go back and you're watching film and you see all of the extra work and all of the stuff that you sacrificed, that it was actually worth it. You're not discrediting that at all. I love being here. I loved being at Alabama. I love what I'm doing and I'm just looking forward to going further than that.
Q: How different is it not having Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski here and is there a leadership void for others to fill?
DH: As far as work goes, it's honestly the same, man. Twelve's [Tom Brady] a big part of this team and he means a lot to us in the locker room, but as far as the culture goes, it's always been next man up. Whether it's 12, or Gronk [Rob Gronkowski], or me missing, or whenever [Jerod] Mayo went down, or [Vince] Wilfork or whatever, it's always been next man up. That's the kind of way Bill [Belichick] has built this culture is whenever the next guy is up they're just looking for that next chance and opportunity. Guys come in and we work hard every day. We're not going to work harder just because 12's not here or because Gronk's not here. Dwayne Allen's doing a great job. [Will] Tye's doing a great job. [Troy] Niklas is doing a great job. All of these guys are getting those extra reps and getting better and wanting to contribute to this team. Honestly, it hasn't changed. I feel like everybody comes in, we're all doing our workouts, we're all doing our film and we're not missing any meeting time. Whenever he gets back, we'll be glad to have them both, but it's not going to stop us from working.
Q: Given your time off last year due to injury, do you feel like you were able to kind of learn anything about yourself as a player or perhaps watch more film with a different eye now that you were removed from the field?
DH: I watched a lot of film of myself. I saw a lot of things that I need to work on. DeMarcus Covington's done a great job with that, as far as in our linebacker room with helping us. One of the things I wanted to be able to work on and know a little bit more about was man-to-man coverage and we've been working more on that and why we're running certain styles and why our philosophy is what it is, so a little bit deeper than what is Cover 2 or Cover 5 or why did we run that? Picking some of the offensive guy's brains, like [Brian] Hoyer or Brady, like 'Whenever we're in Cover 2, what are you looking at? We're doubling over here, so what are you looking at?' It definitely made me sit back and want to learn a little bit more about the game so that can help me get back and be able to move a little bit quicker than what I am, and it also made me sit down and talk to [Dr. James] Andrews and a lot of guys that I work with in the offseason as far as preventive matters to help strengthen those small ligament things that a lot of guys have a problem with, whether it's rolling an ankle or spraining an AC joint or something. I'm really just trying to get back as far as rehab.
Transcripts are provided by the Patriots media relations department as a courtesy to the media and are edited for readability. All press conferences are posted and archived in their entirety at patriots.com.