Hightower says he's good to go for Week 1 after missing preseason


Hightower says he's good to go for Week 1 after missing preseason

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower didn't see any game action this preseason, but he says he's ready to hit the ground running against the Chiefs. 

"That's the gameplan, man," he said Monday. "But it's been a long offseason and I've been working, and hopefully this progress will take me into Thursday and we'll see from there."


Hightower's offseason began with free agency and a flirtation with both the Jets and the Steelers. He ended up back in New England on a four-year deal, and while he was in town for spring workouts, he did not participate in on-the-field work. When training camp began, Hightower remained out. He was on the physically unable to perform list until Aug. 22. 

For someone like Hightower, who has been in the same defense for five full seasons and serves as a mentor to linebackers like Kyle Van Noy and David Harris whenever they have questions, missing practice time may not seem like a real impediment to his readiness for the season. But he admitted that missing time has its consequences for everyone -- even someone who has been the signal-caller for the defense for multiple seasons. 

"You might hear that vets want to show up the last two or three weeks," Hightower said, "but in all reality each day that you miss, you're losing a day on your craft. With the young guys learning as much as they are nowadays, you're not trying to let anybody get a step over you. I did miss out on that time, but I was working."

Where he's been working has been one of the intriguing storylines to follow this summer. Because reporters never watched him practice fully, it's unclear if he's been working as a traditional off-the-ball linebacker or as more of an edge defender. During warmups for practices, he's often seen participating with defensive linemen. 

Is that an indication he'll be used more by Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia as an end-of-the-line defender? With Harris in the mix, will that free up Hightower to do more on the edge? He wouldn't say. But he did give a nod to the fact that he'll continue to be used in a variety of ways, as he has been since arriving to the team as a first-round rookie in 2012. 

"That's something that a lot of guys take a lot of pride in is vers. Obviously rushing inside and outside -- on an end, the tackle, the nose -- is different but we have a lot of guys who can do that . . . It's kind of hard to say [where rushes will come from]. Bill and Matty P., they draw up a little bit of everything. As long as I'm out there, that's all I'm worried about."

For the first time in a long time, on Thursday, he will be out there. 

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."