BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick is as disappointed as anyone that Dont’a Hightower has to miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. But the Patriots head coach also doesn’t have time to ruminate on losing his best linebacker and defensive captain.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Belichick acknowledged how big of a loss Hightower is for the Patriots defense.
“Yeah, obviously we’re all disappointed for High,” said Belichick. “He’s one of the leaders on our defense and one of our captains. He gives us a lot. It’s unfortunate, but it’ll give somebody else opportunities. We’ll see how that goes.”
As far as that “someone else” who gets an opportunity to play a similar role to Hightower, it could be veteran David Harris. The former Jets linebacker has seldom seen the field so far this season, but the injury to Hightower may necessitate a bigger workload for him.
Shea McClellin recently returned to practice from injured reserve and will be eligible to play Nov. 12 against the Broncos, giving the team another option that will be akin to acquiring a player at the trade deadline.
Regardless, there’s no one player that can replace what Hightower brings to the defense. It will take a team effort, as safety Devin McCourty summed up.
“It’s a tough loss. I mean, obviously, he’s a guy who’s been out there for a lot of years now, played multiple roles on the defense, different spots, communication, everything. I mean, he’s a huge part of what we do,” McCourty told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve been out there for a couple games without him, so we know what that’s like, but it’s always the same thing – when a guy like that goes down, a bunch of guys have to step up and kind of try to fill that role, and in this case, a bunch of different roles. It’s a tough loss for us defensively, but it’s something we’ll have to overcome.”
McCourty also mentioned one key detail: the Patriots are a little accustomed to playing without Hightower. They already played Weeks 2-3 this season without him, and Sunday against the Chargers will mark his 14th game missed since the start of 2014.
Belichick summed it up with the classic ‘We’ll do what’s best for the football team,’ and ultimately it really is that simple. But overcoming the loss of Hightower for the rest of the regular season – and more importantly, the playoffs – will easily be one of the team’s biggest challenges in recent memory.