Do you remember when Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty took the league by storm as a rookie? He was a shutdown defender. Pro Bowler. The great defensive back hope of an otherwise forlorn DB draft process. He was perfect and everything we needed.
But then his sophomore year happened and he was burned at almost every turn. He'd show flashes of his rookie season, but he just couldn't seem to put it together.
McCourty, please go have a talk with Hightower. Tell him that it's not his fault.
2011 was the season where the Patriots played over eight different safeties due to injury or just poor production. McCourty, as the new face of the secondary, took the heat when things went poorly because he was supposed to be in coverage. The issue was that he wasn't getting any help.
As a rookie, he would have the safety shade over to help deter the deep throw and often allow McCourty to make a play on the ball. As a sophomore, no opposing quarterback was afraid of Josh Barrett or Bret Lockett. Or Matthew Slater or Sterling Moore. Or James Ihedigbo or Pat Chung. Or Nate Jones or Antwaun Molden.
It was bad. A nightmare situation. Yet we laid the blame on McCourty for his poor production.
This season Dont'a Hightower has assumed a larger role in the defense. Jerod Mayo is hurt. He was the coverage linebacker. Hightower wasn't supposed to be doing what he's doing- he was supposed to play the line, stop the run, defend the flat. Drop into zone. The 270-pound linebacker isn't supposed to be covering vertical routes in man protection. That's just not fair.
So Hightower, sit down with McCourty because it's going to get better. You'll move into a more natural position next season. You'll play better suited to your strengths. Your sophomore season has been plagued by injuries to crucial positions and the blame is falling on you when the team doesn't succeed.
Next year will be your year to shine. Just ask McCourty.