Old Hightower Is Good Tide News
"Dont'a Hightower has had a fantastic off-season," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said of his All-Southeastern Conference player. "He's got his quickness back, and his burst in pass rush. He's gotten over his injury and has his speed back. He's demonstrated some leadership qualities that will be real important to our team. He's had a great spring, off-season program, and summer."
Hightower, speaking to the press for a second straight year at SEC Media Days, said there is a big difference in his health this year compared to last year. "My knee feels 100 per cent," he said. "I feel my pass rush is back. I'm moving laterally, sideline-to-sideline. I feel great."
That last statement is music to the ears of his teammates and Saban.
"In the back of my mind, I babied my knee last year," Hightower said. "Then, right before A-Day (in April), I was doing take-off (drills) with Courtney Upshaw, and I felt great. In the A-Day game, I was coming off the edge like before."
To improve on its 10-3 mark of last year, Hightower said more leadership will be needed, and he's seen that this summer.
"Mark Barron, Trent Richardson, Phillip Sims, and A.J. McCarron are all guys who are stepping up," he said. "You can see a big change in leadership in this year's team compared to last year's."
Not being full-speed last year made it tough for Hightower to feel right about assuming the leadership role Tide coaches needed him to. Still, he tried.
"I felt kind of hypocritical telling people, ‘Let's go!' when I wasn't really able to go full speed, myself. That's not the case, now," he said.
Clad in a houndstooth suit (after wearing all crimson last year at Media Days), Hightower added that having overcome a serious knee injury is helping him counsel a young teammate.
"Dee Hart's doing great," he said of the true freshman running back fighting back from an injured knee of his own. "I tell Dee, ‘I've been in the same position. Don't let it get you down.' He's walking without crutches already. He's healing faster than I did."
Hightower has noticed some new guys standing out this summer in the team's 7-on-7 pass skeleton drills.
"I've noticed (defensive backs) Jabriel Washington and ‘Ha-Ha' (Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix)," he said, adding that the latter "reminds me a lot of a younger Mark Barron. He's a big, strong safety who breaks on the ball. I've also noticed Christion Jones at wide receiver and Trey DePriest at linebacker."
Of the four, only DePriest went through spring practice. Jones had been recruited primarily as a defensive back.
Every Alabama representative present Friday was asked if this fall's stop troops could be better than the 2009 national title defense. Hightower thinks it's possible.
"Our (2011) defense has the ability to be the best I've played on," said Hightower. "We have the resources, the coaches, and the players. It depends on how we use our resources. Last year, we lacked the speed part, getting after the quarterback. This year, I think it's what our defense is about. If we can get there faster, that relieves pressure off the defensive backs."
Hightower has seen young defensive backs like Dee Milliner step up and increase their learning curves.
"In the 7-on7's, you don't see the younger guys making the same mistakes they made last year," he said. "Our mission is to finish games this year."
Depth at linebacker could make a difference at the end of games.
"It's one of the most athletic groups to come through Alabama in a long time," Hightower noted. "You won't see a group of guys work harder in the country. C.J. Mosley helped us out tremendously last year. Courtney Upshaw had a great year. Nico Johnson and Jerrell Harris both have taken the next steps.
"When you go against great backs every day like Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, and Jalston Fowler, it's tough, but it gets you ready for the great competition in the Southeastern Conference every week."
Hightower said all three 2010 losses have motivated the team during off-season workouts, none more so than the Auburn game, when his team lost a 24-0 lead.
"We came out fast, but we let up," he said. "One of our mission statements this year is to finish."
Another question all Tide reps got Friday concerned the April Tuscaloosa tornado that ripped the city apart and left many people destitute.
Hightower said, "Alabama fans, even before the tornado, were big on football. This is helping us come together as a community. We want to give them a season they can remember, and be proud of.
"Tuscaloosa thrives on football, so to have the season, to heal, even a little bit, for some people, that's all they have. We're working hard to give them back some of that, like the (New Orleans) Saints did with (Hurricane) Katrina."
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