Dont'a Hightower "ahead of schedule" in injury rehab

Aaron M. Sprecher / AP Photo

The Patriots lost star middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower to a season-ending torn pectoral in October, but the linebacker is already looking ahead to the 2018 campaign. Talking to WEEI before the Patriots' game against the Dolphins, Hightower said that he is "ahead of schedule" for his recovery.

"I feel great," he said. "I can’t complain where I am at. I am ahead of schedule. Just doing what doc asks me to do. Just grinding and looking forward to getting back next year.”

“It is [tough], but it is part of football and the whole next man up mantra that we kind of have installed in and fell in love with the past couple of years, that is what it is," Hightower said. "Guys have stepped up and done just that. I am more excited than they are when they are making plays. A lot of people have seen those Super Bowl clips last year of me screaming on the field and yelling and all that stuff. I am doing the same thing watching these guys. They are out there having fun and making plays so I couldn’t be happier for them.”

While he's moving faster than expected in his rehab, Hightower still definitely won't be available for this season. However, getting Hightower ready to go for next season should be a top priority for the team--the former Alabama standout and first-round pick just signed a 4-year, $43.5 million extension before this season. And as the play caller and linchpin of Matt Patricia's defense, Hightower has blossomed into one of the game's most versatile and effective inside linebackers.

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