Hightower open to rush-based role in sub

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Part of what made linebacker Dont'a Hightower an intriguing prospect coming out of the University of Alabama in 2012 was his versatility. He was a hard-hitting linebacker on early downs and then rushed as an end in sub packages.

Entering his third NFL season with the New England Patriots, Hightower has not been tapped as a pass-rusher in sub packages, but he feels it would be an area in which he could excel.

"Most definitely. Third down, obviously, I'll just put it out there, I would much rather rush or blitz than to cover -- zone, man or whatever," Hightower told reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium during a break in the team's voluntary offseason program.

"Third down is a fun down whether you're covering or whatever you're doing, because you can do different kinds of things and come at the quarterback all kinds of different ways. So as long as I'm able to be on the field on third down, or whatever they ask me to do, I'm more than willing to do it."

When Hightower has been on the field in sub over the last two seasons, it's mostly been in a coverage-type role. He's had some success (e.g. win over the Steelers in 2013), but also some obvious struggles, in part because it's unusual seeing a 270-pound linebacker chasing running backs and tight ends down the field.

With 2013 top draft pick Jamie Collins emerging late last season, Jerod Mayo's return to health, and the Patriots with some questions at defensive end behind starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, one in-house option for the Patriots to explore is using Hightower closer to the line of scrimmage in sub.

He smiled when the possibility was brought up by a reporter Thursday.

"That might be the case this year, but we have a lot of talented guys out there," he said. "That's up to the coaching staff, where they want to move people around and the scheme they might have or whatever. Again, if that's what they want me to do, or they ask me if I want to do it, of course. But it will definitely be a Bill Belichick thing.”

Hightower, who spent most of the three months after the loss in the AFC title game back home in Tennessee, said he plans to take part fully in the team's offseason program, then will probably train in Arizona (where he worked out prior to the 2012 combine) from mid-June to mid-July.