Dont’a Hightower ‘enjoyed’ year off, but isn’t sure if his body benefitted from it

Hightower returns to the Patriots after sitting out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dont'a Hightower's happy to make his return to football in 2021. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Much was made this offseason about the players the Patriots acquired in free agency. Their biggest acquisition though might be the return of a familiar face.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is back with the Patriots after sitting out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now 31, it’s easy to think that Hightower benefitted from a year’s rest after eight NFL seasons. However, Hightower doesn’t think there was much benefit for his body from taking time off.

“Maybe a little bit (of a benefit),” Hightower told reporters following the Patriots’ practice on Friday. “But once you start hitting and getting the s— knocked out of you, I think all that stuff and those great thoughts and vibes and stuff kind of go out the window.


“It’s football. You realize that when you sign up for it. [Other than the physical on the first day of training camp], after that 100% kind of goes out the window. I enjoyed the year off that I had. The nicks and bangs that you get, I’m not saying I am looking forward to them, but I appreciate them a little bit more.”

The Patriots certainly didn’t benefit from Hightower’s year off, seeing the defense plunge from being the best in the league in 2019 to 15th. The run defense, in particular, took a hit, going from the best run defense in 2019 to 26th last season.

That caused the Patriots to go spending on front seven players, signing linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive linemen Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, and Montravious Adams.

New England also brought back linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who signed with the Dolphins in 2020 after four seasons in New England. The Patriots’ quest to improve the front seven didn’t stop in free agency either. They drafted defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the second round and defensive end Ronnie Perkins in the third round of this year’s draft.

Even though there are a lot of new faces surrounding him this season, Hightower likes the look of the Patriots’ new defense.


“I feel like we have the right pieces, obviously, with Bill (Belichick) bringing in the guys that he brought back and the way he drafted and stuff,” Hightower said. “The pieces have been set up for us. It’s really up to us to go out and execute and build that chemistry and that camaraderie and all that good stuff.”

The 2021 Patriots are in a spot that Hightower isn’t used to. Hightower joined New England following a Super Bowl loss, made the playoffs in each of his eight years in the league, and won three Super Bowls along the way.

Now, he joins a team that needs his veteran presence after a losing season. Hightower is welcoming the new challenge.

“I’m excited to be back,” Hightower said. “I’m excited to play with the guys that I’ve been playing with. It’s been a different journey, but it’s been a fun journey.”

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