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.
- Super Bowl still possible, but no longer likely for depleted Patriots
- As Hightower steps out, Harris may be asked to step up
- Phil Perry: How will Patriots replace Hightower?
- Albert Breer: Hightower's pec muscle was 55 percent torn in March
"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."