New England was uncharacteristically terrible on defense in 2017 under coordinator Matt Patricia, as opponents were able to run, throw and score on the usually stout group at will.
Much of its struggles came from not having inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, however, there remains no excuse for team under head coach Bill Belichick to rank near the bottom in total defense (29th), rush defense (20th) and pass defense (30th) as the Patriots did last season.
Hightower played in just five games and was sidelined for the remainder of the year, due to sustaining a knee injury and a torn pectoral muscle. He collected 14 tackles and two sacks prior to the mishap.
After not winning the Super Bowl, Hightower already senses a more aggressive Patriots defense for 2018 and it’s due to Patricia’s successor in Foxborough, Brian Flores.
A healthy Hightower spoke to ESPN’s Mike Reiss on Wednesday about Flores’ impact on this year’s group in terms of being physical and getting back to a dominant style of play.
“He’s not backing down [and will] be more aggressive,” said Hightower, the two-time captain. “You could see it. I think this was probably our best practice we’ve had and we want to continue to build on that.”
This nugget from the two-time Super Bowl champion and 2016 Pro Bowl selection came after a strong practice from New England’s defense in mandatory minicamp. Despite his appreciation for Patricia, Hightower told Reiss that the team loves Flores’ attitude.
“I feel like he brings a lot of competitiveness. Flo has always been known as a straight shooter, a great guy, and a lot of times that’s what you need. He’s not one to babysit,” he said.
The 37-year-old has not been named defensive coordinator yet, but if Hightower is high on him then an announcement will soon follow.
A former standout at the University of Alabama, Hightower has totaled 386 tackles, 19 sacks, 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in six seasons with the Patriots.
He was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, following a pair of national championship seasons (2009, 2011) with the Crimson Tide.