FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- From the day the Patriots traded up for first-round selections Chandler Jones (21st overall) and Dont'a Hightower (25th overall), there has been a level of excitement over how their presence could help transform the team's defense.
The preseason gave a glimpse. Now comes the real thing, starting with Sunday's season-opener at Tennessee. Both are projected starters -- Jones at right defensive end, Hightower at strongside linebacker.
"My first NFL game, it's a dream come true. You just have to seize the moment," Jones said Friday morning at Gillette Stadium prior to the team's final non-walkthrough practice of the week.
Jones couldn't begin to forecast what his emotions might be like coming out of the tunnel.
"That's a great question. I might be emotional, I might cry, you never know," he said.
For Hightower, who grew up in Lewisburg, Tennessee (about an hour from Nashville), Sunday's game offers an opportunity for many family and friends to watch his regular-season debut in person.
"For this to be my first actual regular-season game, and to be back home, the emotions are going to be crazy," he said, noting his mother, sister and girlfriend -- as well as several former Alabama teammates -- are among those expected to be in attendance.
"It means a lot. Everything I've done to this point, and for my first game to be at home, I just have to go out and do what I've done the last 10-12 years."
For Hightower, the realization that he'd achieved one of his dreams -- to play in the NFL -- created a level of shock in the preseason. That has since passed. Now, it's all excitement.
"I have great older players to look up to -- [Jerod] Mayo, Tracy White, [Brandon] Spikes, Vince [Wilfork] -- and everyone is in my corner. So I'm a lot calmer now and a lot more comfortable in my zone," he said.
As for being switched to jersey No. 54, which longtime fan favorite Tedy Bruschi used to wear, Hightower said: "It means a lot to me to have this number. I know what this number means to this organization. I haven't spoken to Tedy [Bruschi] yet, but when I do, hopefully he'll have some great things to say in terms of knowledge, studying, and things he did to keep his edge."