Patriots rookies ready to start learning curve all over again

May 11, 2012 - 9:35 am

FOXBORO -- After a college career that included working as the defensive centerpiece on a national championship team, linebacker Dont'€™a Hightower is back to square one. The rookie out of Alabama was one of a handful of young guys who opened up their professional football careers at rookie minicamp at Gillette Stadium. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Hightower, who will wear No. 45, is one of several former elite college players who are starting all over again. '€œIt'€™s the calm before the storm,'€ Hightower said before a workout on Friday afternoon. '€œI know what'€™s on my plate and I know what I have to do in order to be a part of this football club. I'€™m going to do everything in my power to contribute to this team and help win. '€œIt just means a lot for me to have my dreams come true. [Just] being a little boy and looking up and being able to play in the NFL, and doing something you love to do with so much passion, it's definitely something that means a lot to me. It'€™s No. 1 on my priority list right now.'€ The same is true for third-round pick Jake Bequette. A defensive lineman out of Arkansas, Bequette was one of the most important parts of the Razorbacks defense. But now, he'€™s one of the low men on the totem pole. '€œFor me, it'€™s exciting. It'€™s been a lifelong dream to play in the NFL, especially for a great organization like the Patriots,'€ Bequette said. '€œIt'€™s just awesome -- very exciting. Like I said, I can'€™t wait to get started.'€ Rookie minicamp is a little like freshman orientation. The youngsters aren'€™t so much worried with the intricacies that come with playing the game. At this point in their careers, they'€™re simply looking for someone to point them toward the locker room, the practice field and the cafeteria. One thing that does help the transition is the fact that it'€™s just rookies (and a handful of others) on the field this weekend, and so the ratio of coaches to players is pretty favorable for a young guy looking for guidance. '€œIt helps a lot, just to be able to have the hands-on coaching that everybody kind of wants,'€ said Hightower, who was one of two first-round picks by the Patriots last month. '€œIt feels good to have the coaches to eye you and make sure you'€™re doing everything you need to do to try to be the best possible player that you can be in that situation that you'€™re in right now.'€ While many rookies are entering into a situation where they have no connection -- no former teammates, no knowledge of what life might be like at the NFL level -- the transition could be a little easier for Hightower and Bequette. Hightower is relatively familiar with a Bill Belichick-style defense, as he played for ex-Belichick assistant Nick Saban at Alabama. '€œThe one thing that really sticks out to me about them is that they'€™re very intelligent and they'€™re very good coaches,'€ Hightower said of the Belichick/Saban similarities. '€œWherever they'€™ve been, they'€™ve had success, I feel really honored to be able to be coached under coach Belichick. I'€™m definitely looking forward to training camp. As for the playbook, Hightower has already seen some similarities as well. '€œSome of the terms are some of the same,'€ he said. '€œBut at the same time, it'€™ll be about me getting in the playbook and learning different terminology and getting with some of the older guys that have been here for a while and have had so much success. So there'€™s a lot of older guys who are here who will help me get along. I definitely have that [in my favor] too.'€ Bequette'€™s transition has been smoothed slightly by the fact that an old college teammate is already in Foxboro. Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett has already spoken with him -- they were together last weekend in Fayetteville, according to Bequette -- and helped give him a little background on what it takes to survive as a rookie in the NFL. '€œI just saw him in the locker room for the first time here,'€ Bequette said of Mallett. '€œHe loves it here. He'€™s just so proud to be a Patriot, and to be able to come here and join him is awesome. '€œHe was in Fayetteville for most of the offseason, and when I came back for pro day, I got to see him and work out with him a few times and just here about not just the Patriots but the NFL in general. Just to pick his brain. Ryan is a guy I can lean on for some experience and just to see what to do to succeed.'€