Patriots LB preview: Donta Hightower leads the way

David Harris is the grizzled vet in the Pats' LB unit
Patriots, LB, Donta Hightower

Donta Hightower

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We know that the Patriots are sitting pretty at the cornerback position, and that's going to make things difficult for opposing quarterbacks. But it doesn't just end there - which is a good thing, because it wouldn't take long for teams to gameplan around a player or two in the passing game.

Patrolling the middle of the field is another must for this Patriots defense, and luckily they appear to have the personnel to do so.

Of course, we can't talk about the current linebacker corps without first mentioning the fact that Rob Ninkovich - who played both outside linebacker and defensive end - called it a career on Sunday. Ninkovich's exit affects the defensive end position more now, but his retirement is still felt all over the defense.

But the most important player of the linebacker unit has returned to the team after a brief free agency testing of the waters: Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower signed a four-year, $35.5 million deal with the Patriots over the offseason. It was another key offseason move for the Patriots, as they lock in one of the best linebackers in the NFL for the foreseeable future.

 

The favorites
Dont'a Hightower, David Harris, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny

Hightower has been seen as a key piece to the Pats defense since he was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The knock on Hightower of the first five seasons of his career is not his smarts, maturity, or physical stature, but his ability to stay healthy. Concern over his health was reportedly the reason teams like the Steelers and Jets passed up on making him offers. As it is, he begins camp on the PUP list. But there’s no doubting when the 6-fooot-3, 265-pound Hightower is healthy and on the field the Patriots can be a lethal defense.

David Harris is one of many noteworthy additions this season after spending the first 10 seasons of his NFL career with the New York Jets. Harris still appears to have plenty left in the tank and also provides a veteran presence. In eight of his 10 seasons he's recorded at least 95 combined tackles. He’s also only missed one game over his last eight seasons. The best ability is availability.

Look for Shea McClellin to continue to trend in the right direction with the Patriots after one year with the team. If there’s one thing Bill Belichick likes it’s versatility. "He’s worked very hard to play with those different techniques and have versatility for us playing on the end of the line, playing off the line, playing in pass coverage, rushing the passer, running games with the defensive linemen and has a number of roles in the kicking game for us,” Belichick said.

Elandon Roberts, a 2016 sixth round pick, saw an increase in his role last year when Jamie Collins was traded. Roberts could be one of the pleasant surprises in camp as he gets an opportunity with Hightower on the PUP list.

Kyle Van Noy and Jonathan Freeny will look to fill out the unit.

 

The rest
Trevor Bates, Brooks Ellis, Harvey Langi

 
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