Belichick disappointed for Hightower, but it opens opportunities for others

Belichick disappointed for Hightower, but it opens opportunities for others

FOXBORO -- The Patriots move through the stages of grieving pretty quickly when a player gets injured. Even one as important as Dont'a Hightower. You feel bad for the player, of course. Bill Belichick acknowledged that on Friday. But then comes the question of what's next? Who steps in?

That's the silver lining in a situation like the one the Patriots are facing now. Someone will have a real chance to show what they can do. 


"Obviously we're all disappointed for High," Belichick said. "He's one of the leaders on our defense and one of our captains. He gives us a lot. But it gives somebody else opportunities, and we'll see how that goes."

We've written extensively in this space about who that could be -- whether it's someone already on the roster or someone coming in from the outside. Regardless, the Patriots will take a game-by-game approach to the replacement process. Belichick explained that just because the Patriots played Weeks 2 and 3 without Hightower earlier this year, that doesn't necessarily mean they have a good idea of what things will look like without him. 

"We haven't played the Chargers," he said. "Each week's a different challenge. This is a good football team . . . We'll have to deal with the Chragers problems. I don't really care about someone else. What difference does it make?"

What makes Hightower's loss especially difficult is two-fold. There's what he does on the field, which is unique. Then there's what he gives the team off the field in terms of his leadership. Belichick said he doesn't hope or expect that other players will shoulder more in that regard in Hightower's absence.

"I don't think I'd use those words," he said. 

But he did explain that everyone on the team -- rookie or vet, captain or not -- has their oar to pull.

"Every player on the team has leadership," he said. "We're not talking about playing time here. Although that's a factor. I'm not saying that's not a factor. But every player on the team comes to work every day and puts in their time in the meeting room puts in their time in the walkthroughs, and the weight room. Puts their time in on the field. That creates different levels of leadership, positive leadership. And that gets recognized by the players . . .

"Every player on the team has leadership. Every player comes in with an opportunity every day to work hard, bring a positive attitude. Some guys excel at that. Some guys are good at it. Some guys excel and are outstanding. I think those players gain more respect from their teammates and oftentimes are recognized for it. There's no limit to working hard or being a team player really having a great attitude. There's no cap on that. Whatever a player wants that to be for himself. That's his choice."

#FridayBag: Don't worry, you can keep your hands to yourself


#FridayBag: Don't worry, you can keep your hands to yourself

FOXBORO - Every Friday, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

MG: Hopefully that’s not needed, Casey, but I will pass it on. 

MG: BIG GAME! Sure. Why the hell not?

MG: Allie, this is a question that’s I’ve been pondering for years, or at least months . . . ok, for about 3 minutes. Tarzan has either a) been duping us all this time and actually has a job, drives an BMW and has a colonial with 2 1/2 baths or b) he’s a baby face who never hit puberty. 

MG: Mikey! Here’s a quite from Todd Wash, Jags DC, when asked about Ramsey possibly covering Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski Sunday: “I think the last thing you can do is to go into a game like this and you try and reinvent the wheel . . . Jalen is a good corner and he plays against wide receivers . . . "

So either he’s telling the truth or he doesn’t want to reveal a wrinkle. My opinion: Why waste Ramsey outside the entire game? Brady’s at his best attacking inside the numbers and even more to the point, inside the hashes. At the very least, I’d deploy Ramsey on Gronk in the red area and make Tommy boy look elsewhere.

MG: Yeah, tough injury. Jon Jones has been terrific on special teams for two years, a likely heir apparent to Matt Slater as that guy who ends up being in the Pro Bowl every year. Love almost every bit of what he brings. Would say Jonathan Bademosi will be active this week and move into that role. 

MG: Sizzle, for sure. We’ve done a lot of X’s and O’s on this one and one area where the Jags have been especially vulnerable is under the linebackers. That means running backs, that means shorter crossing patterns and that means combo platters designed to force these LBs to make a decision. Telvin Smith was targeted 13 times last weekend (according to Pro Football Focus) and surrendered 12 catches. A healthy Brady feasts on this.

MG: Goose making his #FridayBag debut. Welcome. Best matchup is Matt Patricia and his big brains versus Blake Bortles. If that kid thinks he’s going to be looking at the same thing very often, I got a bridge to sell him. Worst matchup is T.J. Yeldon on the linebackers. We’ve spent a ton of time talking about Leonard Fournette and what he brings if he’s healthy but Yeldon is both strong, shifty and can catch. With a skittish QB, Yeldon could be heavily involved.

PP: JP, checking in from the District! I'd say the chances are minimal. I would do it. You might do it. Go out on top and all that. But you and I haven't been saying for years that we're planing to work into our mid-40s. And we don't have post-retirement business plans that kind of hinge on our ability to work into our mid-40s. We also aren't about to be named MVP...of anything. We'll see, but I would be very surprised if this ends up being Brady's last season.

PP: Good question, Michael. Also a scary one for Patriots fans, I'd think. If the unexpected happens and Brady can't take the field, I think you'd have some packages in place for Chris Hogan or Jacob Hollister just in case something happened to Brian Hoyer. Hogan is arguably one of the most versatile athletes on the team, and he threw a pass (left-handed) at MetLife last year. Hollister was a walk-on quarterback at the University of Nevada. When he transferred to Arizona Western Community College, he made the transition to tight end.

PP: To me, all of these questions are related, so let's smash them all together. I do believe the Patriots will show plenty of "21" and "12" personnel in this game. That means either a) two receivers, two backs and one tight end, or b) two receivers, one back and two tight ends. In that scenario, the receivers would be -- in my opinion -- some combination of Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. I'd use the Cooks-Amendola combination most frequently unless it seems like Hogan has completely shaken the rust from his long regular-season absence. The reason it would be a good idea to use theses heavier formations -- as opposed to "11" personnel with three wideouts -- is that it attacks the Jaguars with their weaker coverage people on the field. If the Patriots deploy, say, James Develin, Dion Lewis and Rob Gronkowski in the same look, Jacksonville would likely have to respond by putting run-stuffing linebacker Paul Posluszny on the field. If the Patriots can manipulate the coverage to get any non-Develin weapon on Posluszny, that's a mismatch they can exploit. We go into further detail on how the Patriots can exploit the Jaguars' base defense -- which has struggled in coverage this season -- here