Dont‘a Hightower Is Spring Highlight

If Alabama spring football practice had been a movie, the performance of Dont‘a Hightower would have been as astounding as Lassie explaining to the rancher that Little Timmy was in the well.

Last season, Alabama's fourth game of the year was against Arkansas. In that game, Dont'a Hightower, a second year starter at weakside linebacker, was injured on a cut block. The damage was bad. Torn ACL, torn MCL, torn meniscus. After surgery the next week, it was revealed that Hightower could be expected to return for fall camp in August 2010.

But surprise! When spring practice opened in mid-March, Bama Coach Nick Saban said that he expected Hightower to be able to do everything in the spring, although he held out the possibility that Hightower would not take part in all the scrimmage work.

Not too many practices into the spring, Saban had an update. Hightower was doing everything that would be expected of a linebacker.

Now a junior, Hightower has moved a few steps from the weakside linebacker spot he playued in 2008 and the first four games of 2009 to the middle linebacker position manned the past three years by Rolando McClain. McClain is expected to be a first round choice in the NFL Draft Thursday. Nico Johnson replaced Hightower at weakside linebacker last year and is considered the leader to have that job in the fall.

Hightower didn't have a lot of opportunities in the A-Day Game, a scrimmage in which there were 86 pass plays and only 28 rush plays called. He was in on three tackles and had a quarterback hurry and a pass broken up.

He also had limited statistics in the first scrimmage of the spring, a behind-closed-doors affair. He had three tackles plus a sack and broke up a pass in that work. It was the second scrimmage, also a closed affair, in which Hightower's performance really raised eyebrows. Hightower, a 6-4, 260-pounder, had eight tackles and two sacks in the scrimmage, which Saban noted was an improved practice for the defense.

Almost every analysis of Alabama's 2010 season notes that the Tide has to replace almost every member of what was a very fine defense from the national championship team of 2009. Only Nico Johnson and safety Mark Barron could be said to be returning starters.

But Hightower, a native of Lewisburg, Tenn., has starting experience as an inside linebacker, and will be one of the keys as Alabama attempts to have another successful season.

Hightower was not made available to sportswriters following the A-Day Game, so a reporter asked Marcell Dareus if he had watched Hightower in the game.

"Of course I watched him play," Dareus said. "I watch him every day to make sure he is okay. He's a teammate and a team leader. I don't want him to be timid behind me. We talk about that a lot. Dont'a is a player. He plays hard every down, play-in and play-out. He's just that type of person."

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