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Hightower: Andrew Luck 'one of the premier quarterbacks'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in the 2013 AFC Divisional Playoffs, the defense forced quarterback Andrew Luck into throwing four interceptions. The Colts’ offense just couldn’t get going.

Flash forward to 2014 with the same players on the roster and the Colts look like an entirely different offensive juggernaut.

Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower said the Colts’ offense appears much more explosive.

“They have the same guys this year. I don’t know if it’s the play-calling or if Luck is taking a bigger grasp upon it, but there’s a big play almost every other play,” said Hightower.

“They’ve got a lot of great skill guys. They use their tight ends. They use all their backs. They have Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton. There’s a lot of weapons over there.”

Scoring a league-best 32.8 points per game, the Colts look like a New England-style offense utilizing all of the offensive weapons available. But one important similarity stands out the most -- both teams have an elite quarterback.

While the Patriots have future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady, the Colts have their own franchise quarterback in Luck.

Hightower was asked by a reporter if Luck still looks “pretty decent at throwing the football.”

“That’s an understatement,” Hightower said. “Luck is definitely one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. He can do it with his arm. He can do it with his feet. He’s a smart guy, so he’s definitely again one of the premier quarterbacks in the league.”

With a lot of attention placed on Luck and his wide receivers Hilton and Wayne, Hightower also stressed the challenge that the Colts’ pair of tight ends -- Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen -- present.

“You tell me, look at the stats,” Hightower said. “They’re great. Me and Dwayne are close friends. I talk to him every now and then. And I joked around with Fleener and Luck in the draft and whatever. They are great guys and they are really good tight ends. They do it all.”

Fleener typically gets labeled as the receiving tight end while Allen is a blocking tight end, but Hightower said they contribute in all areas of the position.

“They aren’t just receiving tight ends,” Hightower said. “They get in there and they block. They’re not afraid to be at the point of attack so they are two good young tight ends.”

In addition to matching up with the Colts’ tight ends, Hightower will have the opportunity to play his college teammate at Alabama and close friend, Colts running back Trent Richardson.

“Looking forward to going up against Trent,” Hightower said. “It’s been a couple of years since we got to go toe-to-toe. I’m looking forward to it.”

Hightower was asked if he is looking forward to hitting Richardson on Sunday night.

“It’s football,” Hightower said. “I want to hit everybody.”