PATRIOTS LINEBACKER DONT’A HIGHTOWER
Q: Did you get what you were hoping to out of practice today?
DH: I think we all got a lot better today. Obviously, nothing's perfect. Nothing is perfect in football, but there's a few plays we all would like to have back, but I think all in all we're in the right spot. Everybody's working, working to get better and you can't ask for more than that.
Q: Is the progression going the way it's supposed to go or is it moving faster or slower?
DH: Honestly, that's obviously something for Bill [Belichick]. I think, collectively, everybody's trying to hold each other accountable. Again, that word gets tossed around a lot because we do a lot – whether on offense, defense or special teams – we do a lot. The number one thing to be one of the 11 guys on that field is accountability. We're all holding each other to that and we can't ask each other for more than that. We keep that attitude and try to get better each day. You can't ask for more than that.
Q: How good can this linebacker group be?
DH: Again, I think we know what kind of tools we've got, but if we don't use them then what do you really have? We're talented. We know we have experience or whatever you want to call it, but we've got to go out and execute and not get complacent.
Q: Is Jamie Collins the same old guy on the field out there making plays as he was the last time he was a teammate of yours?
DH: Yeah, he brings another element of trying to get after the ball. That's definitely something that's obviously emphasized on defense, is turnovers. Him out there, he's always been a ball hawk so whether he's clutching at the ball or having guys thinking about getting back and looking for him, reading the quarterback and all of that stuff. That stuff helps.
Q: What have you learned from Tom Brady all these years and seeing a guy play this well at his age?
DH: You're from Michigan, huh? I could tell by that question. He leads by example, man. The same thing you see on the field is what you get. Again, he holds everybody accountable to the same standard he holds himself. He's competitive as hell no matter what it is, whether it's football, basketball, golf, whatever it is. Having a guy like that lead a team just only sets the standard for everybody else.
Q: How much can Ja'Whaun Bentley help you guys in his second year? Have you seen a big jump from year one to year two?
DH: I think so. He's a young player but he's very smart. He's definitely been a sponge. All of last year he wasn't one of the guys that went home or whatever. He stayed around, was in on all of the meetings, taking notes and stuff. Having guys like him around only helps not just our linebacker room, but the defense as well. Having a guy like that who knows the defense pretty well and is able to talk and help guys get lined up and make adjustments. Whenever you have all 11 guys on a page like that, that you can just simply look at them and say one thing and then be thinking the exact same thing definitely helps.
Q: Where does his intelligence show up? Where is that trait most evident?
DH: I think it's just him being a smart football player, whether we're looking at formations and him giving you a guess on what the play might be based on down-and-distance or whether it's an adjustment with a motion or something, the way to help itself. That's been something that's really been good in our room this year, a lot of guys have different perspectives and they're able to get a different perspective from everybody. Everybody doesn't play the same. We kind of get taught the same thing but we all have different tools so it's always good to have different guys that can speak about different things.
Q: Do you look forward to the game day experience of Thursday night here even if you're not expected to play much?
DH: I think so. It'll be the actual first time that we get to show the world as a unit what we've been working on since the spring. Regardless of who's out there, again, we all hold each other accountable. We all know how hard each one of us has worked to get here, whether it's this training camp or going against each other. I think it's just more about being out there, having fun and rooting for one another.
Q: What have you been able to learn about Chase Winovich in the short time he's been here?
DH: He's definitely got a high motor; that's for sure. He's one of the guys who works really hard. He's always asking questions and he obviously wants to do the right things all of the time. You really couldn't ask much more from a guy that's willing to do whatever and then with the way he does it. He acts like he's done it for a while and he definitely follows the role of whether it's [John] Simon, or Kyle [Van Noy], or Jamie or whoever. Whoever he's working with, he does a good job of being a sponge.
Q: What's the benefit of having so many guys that can probably play inside or outside at the linebacker position?
DH: I think it just helps us down the road. A lot of offense try to game plan for guys being in certain spots in situations, and whenever we're able to mix it up and line up different, or be in a different front, or blitz, or cover, or drop or whatever, nobody really knows where we're at. As long as we can continue to grow chemistry between ourselves and continue to learn the defense, we know we'll be alright.
Q: Is that fun for you as somebody who does bounce back and forth between inside and outside?
DH: I think it’s fun. A lot of times guys are just lined up in one particular spot, but one of the things that we do here is you get asked to do one, two, three different things if possible. It definitely makes our defense unique and a lot different. It's just good to be able to cover back here, drop in zone here, blitz here, coordinate a rush over here. I think everybody kind of enjoys not knowing where you're going to be. Just waiting to hear the call.
PATRIOTS RUNNING BACK SONY MICHEL
Q: How do joint practices help you improve as a running back?
SM: Whatever coach asks of us, we’re going to try and do it to the best of our abilities. It’s always about working on all aspects of your game.
Q: How do you think the past couple of days with the Lions have gone for you guys?
SM: I think it’s helped, especially with seeing things we need to work on and executing it. The Lions are a great team. They brought a lot of physicality out here, and I think we got in some good work. We got better, and I think we can keep improving.
Q: What are you able to do better this year?
SM: Just be calm and learn, and whatever I learn, just try to put it out on the field.
Q: Is it different being a pass catcher in the NFL from being a pass catcher in college?
SM: I would say they’re just different systems. I’m sure you could go to any different team anywhere and it’s going to be different. Coaches have different philosophies, they want things done differently. Here, we’ve got a certain way we want things done and I try to do it to the best of my abilities.
Q: Is it the same with the quarterback too, how he wants routes run certain ways?
Q: Do you feel like practicing more this year will help you more in the passing game?
SM: I think it’ll just help me overall, just as a football player going into the season, being ready physically, mentally. In camp, you get to get those reps, you get to get your conditioning going. Last year I missed those things, so it was harder for me to get going a little bit. I think this year it can help a little bit and prepare me from the season.
Q: What do joint practices do for you?
SM: It gives you a chance to see where your team is. They help you be competitive because you’re going against guys that are trying to take your head off. Going against your teammates over and over, it can get redundant at times, but going against another great team, it’s always special to see where your team is.
Q: Is there excitement for putting the uniform for the first time this year on Thursday night?
SM: It’s always exciting to get out there and play a football game. We treat every game the same, whether it counts or it doesn’t count. It’s just a blessing and an opportunity to go out there and play football. We’re going to take advantage of it.
Q: Which hill do you like better, here or in Foxborough?
SM: I like any hill. Any hill that’s going to get me in condition, get me ready to play some football, I’m with it.
Q: Is the hill your friend?
SM: The hill is my friend? I assume so. I’m going against it, actually, so I won’t really say it’s my friend.
Q: How much does joint practice help you read defenses you’re going to see in games?
SM: It’s all about the information that you learn from the coaches and just studying what a team does, their tendencies, and you try to go out there and react off of it. I mean, sometimes they throw different things at you, but it’s all about being a football player.
Q: How valuable is it to have Josh McDaniels out on the field instructing you on technique?
SM: It helps because he’s the one that’s calling the plays. There’s a certain way he wants it done, and there’s no better way of getting it done.
Q: Brandon Bolden was a leader in his first stint with the Patriots. What has his impact been since returning to the running back room?
SM: The same thing. He’s continued to be a leader, a big brother, a guy you can lean on and a good friend.
Q: How have the additions of Damien Harris and Nick Brossette been?
SM: Those guys have grown. They’re still learning. Two great backs, and I’m excited for them.