Injury sidelines Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower

Pats LB Dont'a Hightower out for season with torn pec

Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly all are part of that group, and Shea McClellin will rejoin it once he is removed from injured reserve, which could be as soon as next week. The Patriots were bracing for Hightower, the leader of the defense, to miss a significant stretch of time, but the torn pec is the worst-case scenario for a team with one of the worst defenses in the league and it comes at a time when the Patriots uncharacteristically are not running away with the NFC East.

Hightower's fourth-quarter strip sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was one of the key plays in Super Bowl LI, helping the Patriots complete their rally from a 25-point deficit to win the Lombardi Trophy.

New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Hightower made 13 starts last season, accounting for 65 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks and two passes defensed. "He knows this defense like the back of his hand". Rapoport's update was a surprise to some who thought Hightower would be ready to return during the season.

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The 6-foot-4, 318-pound Blackson would be the leading candidate, as it's rare for a team to be able to fall back on a practice-squad player with his experience and draft pedigree.

Hightower's absence also will be felt on the edge, where the Patriots lack depth. "What a player can do to change it is to work hard and improve and do things better than what he's doing them to get more of an opportunity". "It's a tough loss for us defensively, but it's something we'll have to overcome".

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