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What hiring Dont’a Hightower as linebackers coach means for the Patriots

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By: Bernd Buchmasser

Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

New England has brought the three-time Super Bowl winner back into the fold to work with his former position group.

There is no better time for this move to happen than right now: Dont’a Hightower, who earned himself the nickname “Mr. February” due to his game-changing plays in three Super Bowls, has returned to the New England Patriots. As his agency announced on Friday, the 33-year-old will become the team’s next linebackers coach.

Hightower’s return to New England is big news given his history with the organization. What exactly does it mean for the Patriots, though?

Let’s take a big-picture look at the high-profile acquisition.

Hightower brings an impressive résumé to the table

Coaching linebackers in New England will be a new experience for Hightower, who only last year put an official end to his playing career. But while he will be a first-year coach at any level, he is well-suited to take over the vacant position previously held jointly by new Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo and since-departed Steve Belichick.

Hightower, after all, was a center piece of the Patriots defense for a decade and one of the most important players of their second dynastic run. He laid a strong foundation to build a coaching career on.

Between arriving as a first-round draft pick in 2012 and his retirement, Hightower appeared in a combined 134 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots, won those aforementioned three Super Bowl rings, and was a tone-setter both on and off the field. He also was a multi-year team captain, played a diverse set of roles, and was responsible for calling signals from the heart of the New England defense.

Add it all up, and you can see why the Patriots wanted to get him aboard — and why he will not be a fish out of water despite no coaching résumé to speak of.

Jerod Mayo follows through on his promise

Last spring, after Hightower had announced his retirement, then-Patriots assistant coach Jerod Mayo was asked about his former teammate as a potential future coach. Mayo wasted no time singing Hightower’s praises, and in fact went so far as to tease an eventual return further down the line.

“I think Hightower would be a phenomenal coach,” he said at the time. “We’ll see. When I get a chance to run my own ship, I’ll try to recruit him.”

Less than 10 months later, Mayo has indeed managed to successfully recruit him.

New England’s core defensive staff is complete…

With Hightower joining the group, it appears the Patriots now have their core defensive staff in place. There will be some new and some old, but plenty of familiarity for Jerod Mayo to work with on that side of the ball.

  • Defensive coordinator: DeMarcus Covington
  • Defensive line: Jerry Montgomery
  • Linebackers: Dont’a Hightower
  • Cornerbacks: Mike Pellegrino
  • Safeties: Brian Belichick

DeMarcus Covington previously worked as defensive line coach, but he was promoted to coordinator after Jerod Mayo took over as the Patriots’ head coach last month. In turn, his former job went to long-time Green Bay Packers assistant Jerry Montgomery, the only quasi-external addition on that side of the ball, not counting career-Patriot Hightower.

The backend, meanwhile, will continue to look the same it has the last few years. Mike Pellegrino and Brian Belichick will both stay put and continue coaching New England’s cornerbacks and safeties, respectively.

Heading into Friday, only one big question remained: who would coach linebackers? Turns out, a familiar face will fill that spot on the coaching roster.

…but additional acquisitions could still happen

Even though New England now has the basic coaching setup in place on the defensive side of the ball, other moves might still happen. The team, for example, could decide to split linebacker duties up: in the past, the Patriots have used separate coaches for inside and outside linebackers, even though the boundary between those spots has become increasingly fuzzy the last few years.

Still, the club adding another coach in an effort to lighten Hightower’s workload could very well be in the plans (even though no such move appears to be imminent). The same is true at other positions, where coaching assistants might be brought in to learn and support the current group of position coaches.

Hightower becomes the latest former NFL player to join the new-look staff

Since their mutual split from long-time head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have made multiple hires to fill out open positions on new HC Jerod Mayo’s staff. Of those, several have played the game at the NFL level — just like Mayo did himself.

Hightower has now become the latest to join that group. It also features new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, offensive line coaches Scott Peters and Robert Kugler, and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. Former players do not automatically make good coaches, but Mayo and company appear to have a soft spot for them, intentionally or not.

Originally posted on Pats Pulpit