Hightower braces for second season

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was at this time last year that Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower was beginning the process of settling into his new home as a rookie in New England.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, he reflected on his inaugural NFL season.

"I learned a lot about myself last year," he said. "I know about my strengths and my weaknesses, and that's some of the things I'm working on now and trying to get done in training camp, minicamp, before the season."

Hightower added that the biggest difference entering his second season is an understanding of the work ethic needed to succeed in the NFL.

"The biggest difference was probably the work ethic," Hightower said. "The first year in, you're trying to push so hard to keep up with everybody else, but now it's more of a pace thing, knowing the things I need to work on: the upper body, the flexibility, the hamstrings, all the little things I learned in the first year that I'm paying more attention to in the second year."

He's taken the opportunity to share some of his wisdom with the new rookie class.

"The most important thing is that your body is your temple," he said. "Those guys have been in here, they've been working hard, the legs are tight -- the cold tub, the massages, the little attention to details. The small things, the little nicks you've got to take care of before training camp and going all the way through the season."

He's quickly started to develop a relationship with the Patriots' newest rookie linebacker, second-round choice Jamie Collins.

"Me and Jamie actually hung out the other night and watched the basketball game, he's a real cool dude," Hightower said. "He works hard. I don't think he's going to have a problem at all jumping in and fitting in, whether it's at linebacker or D-end, wherever it's going to be at, I feel like he's going to bring athleticism and versatility to the team, and that's why we got him."

Given that they play the same position, it will come as no surprise if Hightower serves as a mentor for Collins during his rookie season, and Hightower said he hopes to become a leader for not just his position group, but for the team.

"Become a little bit more of a leader," he mentioned among his goals for 2013. "Not necessarily the Vince Wilforks or the [Jerod] Mayos, but one of those guys that everybody kind of looks up to and sees the work ethic."