FOXBORO -- When Patriots front-seven defenders broke their meeting and headed into the locker room, the meeting never . . . really . . . broke up.
Dont'a Hightower, Lawrence Guy, Keionta Davis and others huddled in front of the lockers of the team's defensive linemen, and they chatted for a good 10 or 15 minutes as reporters took up a chunk of the locker room nearby.
"It's real important. Not that we're lacking but I think that's something that we've really took more hands-on with trying to be a lot more detailed," Hightower said, referencing the back-and-forth with reporters the following day. "We put it upon ourselves to split up and spend more time on it. It kind of went on a little bit longer than we wanted it to, but just really trying to get everything down pat.
"When everybody knows what everybody else is doing we're able to play faster so we're trying to do everything we can to be more knowledgeable on anything that could happen."
Playing faster will be key Sunday when the Patriots take on the Dolphins and an offense that is propelled by its team speed. Motions, sweeps, horizontal field-stretchers and vertical field-stretchers all figure to contribute to the Miami game plan, and the first line of defense will be asked to provide more resistance than it did against the Lions last weekend.
Hightower emphasized seeing things through one set of eyes as a front-seven group. That's a favorite axiom of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, but eh concept applies defensively as well.
If everyone can understand what's happening in front of them, then the group can play more confidently and with more speed. Impromptu meetings like the one Hightower helped run on Wednesday can help.
"It's good. It's good to kind of see what perceptions are going throughout," he said. "Why we're doing this. A lot of times it will help guys maybe see things or play things a lot quicker, knowing what to expect and kind of what everybody else sees. Any time all 11 guys can be on the same page and see the same things at the same time, guys can play and react a little quicker.
"Any time you can have that dialogue, not only with the coaches but amongst yourselves, you can kind of know what we're expecting being on the field together. It helps."
The Patriots have several new faces in the front-seven, even after their rookie middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley hit injured reserve earlier this week. Derek Rivers is seeing his first regular-season action as a pro. Same goes for Davis. Danny Shelton was acquired via trade this offseason and Adrian Clayborn was signed in free agency.
With Bentley unavailable, it's possible that Hightower sees more time off the line of scrimmage. He's among the team's most versatile defenders, playing both in the middle of the defense and at the end of the line as an edge defender. But he's among the favorites to serve as the unit's primary signal-caller on the receiving end of the coach-to-player communication system -- signaled by having the green dot on his helmet -- because he's done it so often in the past.
Last year, when the Patriots defense was having clear communication issues, Hightower seemed to spend less time on the edge and more time in the middle, where he can better serve as traffic cop for the defense.
On this week's Quick Slants the Podcast, I asked Jerod Mayo if he thought a move back to the middle for Hightower would benefit the defense. He agreed, in part because he'd have the freedom to mix up some of the front-seven looks, which could positively impact a run defense that is struggling at the moment.
"I definitely agree with you when you said put Hightower back in the middle," he said. "There's no stunting even on the run. There's no run-stunting. There's a difference between pass-stunting and run-stunting.
"I feel like when you have young linebackers inside whether it's [Elandon] Roberts or anyone else in there, or Bentley, they're sitting there like, 'Listen, this is your gap, this is your responsibility, and [they] doesn't have the freedom to move guys at will . . . If I moved Vince [Wilfork] in the 'A' gap then I had the opposite 'A' gap. Right now, they're so vanilla on defense -- at least in the front against the run game -- that people are just gashing them."
Even if the front seven is in the wrong defense at the wrong time, the result could be OK. But it's dependent upon all players being in the wrong defense together, meaning responsibilities are being taken care of. Whether it's Hightower in the middle calling signals or someone else, having all defenders on the same page on a play-in-play-out basis is critical.
"A lot of times you can be in the worst call in the worst scenario, but then again if all 11 guys are on the same page and kind of know what that weakness is and expect it, you're able to play a little bit faster," Hightower said. "Without trying to overload, we're trying to be as knowledgeable as we can going into the week."
Hightower acknowledged that he has a lot of work to do to get to where he wants to be, but he felt as though he's improving as he continues to get his legs under him after missing time in 2017.
"I feel I'm elevating each week," he said. "Obviously it's still early in the season. We all got a lot of work to do, but me personally, I hold myself to a higher standard than that. Had a good week. Didn't play great but just want to continue to get better each week and that's all I can hope for."