Hightower set to lead defensive huddle

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Second-year linebacker Dont'a Hightower said Wednesday that he will wear the communication device in his helmet and lead the New England Patriots' defensive huddle, an important job previously held by linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

As part of game-planning preparations for Sunday's road game against the New York Jets, Hightower has met with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and linebackers coach Pepper Johnson about the added responsibility.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's definitely something that I knew down the road, if something ever happened, that I would have to step up and do it," he said. "I'm not nervous about it. It's something I've done before, maybe not in the NFL [but] I know everyone is behind me and they support me. That's all I can ask for.”

As for the specifics of the responsibility, Hightower said it starts with preparation and knowing "what everyone has to do, what position they have to be in.”

"Basically just being the quarterback of the defense," he said, later adding that he alone can't fill Mayo's shoes: "That's something I'm not going to be able to do. I can't be Mayo. I'm Hightower. I can only do my job, in the ways like I feel I should. There's all kinds of leadership, so I'm not going to have to rock the boat and do something that I've never done before. I just have to keep the front-seven guys together and then hopefully those guys have my back on the back end."

Overall, Hightower repeated that he still sees plenty of leadership on the defense, mentioning players like linebacker Brandon Spikes, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones and defensive backs Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, among others.

Still, the injuries have cut deep.

"We took a bunch of key guys falling down, with Vince [Wilfork] and Mayo and TK [Tommy Kelly] and all the other guys that are banged up," he said. "It's football and it's all expected -- one guy down and another guy comes up. I feel like everybody that's here is going to help us win; that's why they are here. As long as we communicate and execute the game plan, we'll be fine.”

As for who replaces Mayo as the weakside linebacker in the base 4-3 defense, the top candidates are second-round draft choice Jamie Collins (52nd overall) and four-year veteran Dane Fletcher.

Hightower on Collins: "He's a smart dude, very athletic, probably one of the most athletic guys on the team. He knows the playbook, he's always quick to answer a question. I'm sure whatever they ask him to do, or anybody else in that linebacker room to do, I'm pretty sure they'll be ready to stand up and go.”

Hightower on Fletcher: "He's definitely a vet guy, an older guy. He actually helps out a lot when we're watching film and giving out hints and checks and stuff like that. Either way, Dane or Jamie, whoever goes out there, I'm comfortable with both of them out there on the field.”