Dont'a Hightower's return comes at right time

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There’s nothing that makes losing linebacker Jerod Mayo for the rest of the season any easier for the Patriots. However, the return of linebacker Dont'a Hightower is definitely good news for New England.

After missing last week’s game against the Buffalo Bills with a knee injury, Hightower has been a limited participant in practice this week and is hoping to be able to take the field on Thursday night.

“I’m just doing what I can. Everything is holding up pretty well still. Still doing treatment, rehab, doing everything I need to do,” Hightower said. “Do I think I’m going to be able to play Thursday? Again, that’s day to day. I’m holding up. All I can do is what they ask me to do and I’ll be doing it. Hopefully I’ll be out there.”

Hightower was the primary signal-caller on defense last season after Mayo was lost for the season in Week 6, and his return couldn’t come at a better time for the Patriots.

Like the rest of the team, Hightower lamented the loss of both Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley, both on and off the field. However, he also spoke of the positives that came from facing similar adversity last season, noting that the team’s recent experience in this situation should have them better prepared this time around.

“It’s going to help a lot,” Hightower said. “I definitely feel like I needed that. Not only me but it helped [fellow linebacker Jamie Collins] out as well. We have some familiarity with that. It’s going to be a lot easier this year, the chemistry that me and Jamie have built since then. We help each other.

“The big thing about this defense this year is that a lot of people communicate. That’ll prevent those big plays from happening and misalignments and miskeys. I feel like as long as we talk, we’ll be alright.

“We prepared for this in OTAs, pulling guys out, making guys communicate and do those things. [Deontae] Skinner's done a great job these last couple of weeks as far as being that guy who’s staying late and watching extra film and doing everything. I think we’ll be alright. We definitely feel like the communication part is what’s going to help us.”

If Hightower is healthy enough to play and ends up being the one calling the shots (Collins also had experience in the role during the preseason), the linebacker insists that it won’t change his game in any way. He said his focus remains on returning to the team and putting his injury behind him for good.

“[It was difficult] seeing those guys out there having fun and playing the way they were playing and not being able to be a part of it,” Hightower said. “Hopefully that was the last game of the season I have to do that.”