Hightower Expects Good Defense

Put Dont'a Hightower down as one observer of Alabama football who isn't too worried about replacing almost every starter from the Crimson Tide's 2009 defense that was one of the best of the nation. And Hightower has a pretty good view of things.

Dont'a Hightower isn't sure where he will be playing on a lot of defensive downs in 2010, but he has a good feeling about how Alabama will play defense this season.

There were many questions about the Crimson Tide defense that was in great part responsible for Alabama having a 14-0 season and winning the 2009 national championship. One of the most important wasn't expected to be answered at least until fall camp, and it concerned Hightower. Would he be able to make a recovery from the horrific knee injury he suffered in the fourth game of last season?

The wait wasn't nearly that long. Barely six months after suffering torn anteior cruciate and medial cruciate ligaments and a meniscus in his knee, Hightower is full speed ahead in Bama spring practice.

Hightower had three tackles, a pass breakup and a sack in last Friday's scrimmage.

"He did everything he was supposed to do," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said. "We never took him out for anything. He was a pass rusher when we needed him to be a pass rusher. He played nickel when we needed him to play nickel. He played linebacker in regular when we needed him to play linebacker."

Hightower confirmed, "As far as my knee goes, I felt real good."

He considered the full speed scrimmage to be one of the last tests of the knee. "We go pretty hard at practice," he said, "but having to be able to take that extra step in a tackle, I think that helped me out a lot."

Earlier in the spring, Hightower had mused that he looked forward to having the opportunity to "take someone's head off." So who was the unlucky guy in that first scrimmage?

Hightower amended his previous thought. He doesn't want to hurt a teammate. He's saving that pent-up energy for a San Jose State player when Alabama opens the season September 4. But he did get a shot at Bama tailback Demetrius Goode in the Friday scrimmage.

"I didn't get him the way I wanted to," Hightower said. "But he knew I was there."

Hightower, a 6-4, 260-pound upcoming junior from Lewisburg, Tennessee, said in terms of mobility, "I feel pretty comfortable. There is always room for improvement. As far as my mobility, I think I'm about 90 per cent. So hopefully by fall camp, I'll be back to 100 per cent."

There is a mental consideration when a player has had a knee injury. He said when he is on the field, "I don't really worry about my knee or think anything about it. But going back and watching film, there're a couple of plays where sometimes I kind of favor it if somebody gets close to it. So hopefully I can get that mental aspect out of the way and be able to play more regularly than I am worried about the knee."

Hightower said he thought he did well and that the defense did well in the scrimmage, adding he and the unit have room for improvement. "We looked really good," he said. "There were a lot of guys flying to the ball. We've just got to get everyone on the same page as far as mental errors, focus, and a little bit more effort."

Hightower isn't sure where he will play. He had started in 2008 and before his injury last year at weakside linebacker, an inside position next to middle linebacker. Speculation has been that he would slide into that middle spot, which had been held the past three years by Rolando McClain. McClain has left the team to prepare for a professional career.

"It's still up in the air," Hightower said. "I still play inside and I play outside as well. The thing I know for sure is that I'll be on the end in pass rush situations, but as far as regular and nickel, I'm not sure yet."

There are about nine other questions regarding starters on defense, but Hightower thinks things will be just fine.

"I don't think there's that big of a difference," he said. "In the front, Chaps (Josh Chapman) has come in and replaced T.C. (Terrence Cody), so there's nobody climbing up on top of me. And Luther Davis and Marcell Dareus do just as good a job as Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington did. I can't tell any difference there.

"As far as the secondary goes, we're still young and we have to communicate a lot better than we've been doing, but I think so far we look pretty good."

Hightower sees Alabama's defensive reputation as a positive. "I feel like Alabama's defense is always known to be one of the strong points of the team, one of the strongest in the nation," he said. "I feel like with this group, it's not just the fact that we want it, but that it's expected. We use that for motivation. We might not be as big as we were last year, but we have a lot of speed and athleticism and I think we're going to use that to our advantage this year."

In addition to losing good football players, Alabama lost very good leaders from the 2009 Crimson Tide. Hightower's teammates talk him up as a leader for this season.

"It makes me feel respected by my teammates and it makes me feel honored that they see me as that guy," Hightower said. "I'm just trying in my best way be able to step up and take control of that like Javier (Arenas) and Rolando (McClain) did last year."

He also sees a leader on offense, quarterback Greg McElroy.

"I think Greg was one of the first guys to step up and be a leader," Hightower said. "First time I saw that was in the fourth quarter program. Some guys stayed out late for a little seven-on-seven. Guys were joking around. Greg stopped it and got everyone straightened out and from there on we did better."

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