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A two-year Captain and rare starter as a true freshman, Dont'a Hightower has been a force in Tuscaloosa since he first stepped foot on campus. He's regularly referred to as the "heart and soul" of the Crimson Tide's top-ranked defensive unit. The outstanding inside linebacker has made every call for Nick Saban's 3-4 defense for two consecutive seasons, eventually being named consensus first-team All-American in 2011.
Not only does Hightower fit the Chiefs' defensive alignment like a glove, he's a significant upgrade over current starter (and impending free agent) Jovan Belcher. With Belcher you have more of a pile-maker than a playmaker and someone who offers almost nothing against the pass. Given that Tamba Hali and Justin Houston might be the worst coverage linebackers in the NFL, the Chiefs must have elite-level ability on the inside in order to shore-up the middle of the field.
Looking for a reason the team has trouble getting off the field on third down? Poor zone play against crossing patterns by tight ends and running backs is the main culprit. Pairing Hightower with Derrick Johnson on the inside will go a long way into making the unit more effective. Also worth noting is the release of Demorrio Williams, the primary back-up to both Johnson and Belcher.
With even a quick study of the game film, its easy to see the rare combination of skills Hightower possesses. I've often likened him to a workhorse running back given his tendency to wear down opponents and play his best football in fourth quarter. His violent style of play is endearing but perhaps more impressive is the wisdom to know when to use finesse rather than aggression to bring players to the ground. Despite his mammoth frame at 265 pounds, he has very adequate zone coverage ability to compliment his elite presence against the run and considerable pass rushing talent.