Hightower Has New Role On Defense
This year's Alabama football media guide lists Dont'a Hightower at a sophomore, which would indicate he received a redshirt exemption after suffering the season-ending knee injury against Arkansas last fall.
One logical person to ask about that is the 6-4, 260-pound Hightower.
"I have no idea," he said.
One thing he does have an idea about is how to play football. As a freshman starter in 2008 and up until his injury last year, Hightower played weakside linebacker, one of the inside linebacker spots. It was a surprise this spring when Hightower was sufficiently recovered from his serious knee injury and surgery to participate in spring practice. It was not a surprise that he was moved into the middle linebacker spot vacated by All-America Rolando McClain's move to pro football.
Hightower was on the sidelines for most of last year's National Championship season. He watched McClain help Bama to a 14-0 season, and said, "I actually learned a lot of things I probably wouldn't have learned if I wasn't on the sidelines. Ro's always been a big brother to me. Being able to watch him make his checks, the things he looked at, helped me out a lot."
Hightower will be in McClain's mike linebacker position this year. Except...
"I'll be doing the exact same thing I did last year, except in regular I'll be playing where Rolando was," Hightower said. The interesting thing about ‘regular" – Alabama's 3-4 defense that has three down linemen, four linebackers, and four defensive backs – is that Bama was rarely in that alignment last year. More often than not the Tide defense had five or six defensive backs, or a linebacker dropping into coverage.
Hightower expects at least as much of that this year, perhaps more. "So many offenses are going to the spread, four wideouts or whatever, that it's making defenses spread out. We'll probably be about the same. We may be more dime (six defensive backs) than nickel (five DBs).
Hightower may be utilized more as a pass rusher in 2010. "I had never rushed the passer until I got here," Hightower said. "One day I was just playing around with it and a coach suggested me for it. I started working on it, watching film, learning about it."
He'll have another duty this year. "It's kind of neat to be stepping up to be one of the leaders on defense. Playing the Mike, everyone kind of looks up to me. Getting the plays, making the calls, making the checks. That's part of being a leader."
The inside linebackers have a new coach this year. James Willis left Alabama after just a year to go to Texas Tech as defensive coordinator. Bama Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart, who had been coaching Tide safeties, is taking over the inside linebackers this year.
"That's a big help," Hightower said. "Last year Coach Willis keyed on reading the backs, wait to take on the guards, things like that. Coach Smart helps us out more with the coverage game, not just what we do but the whole defense. Why we check to the things we do. That'll be a big part of our success in coverage this year."
The return of Hightower to a defense that has very few returning starters is one reason Bama has been given a pre-season number one ranking. As expected, Hightower said, "We try not to worry too much about that."
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