Hightower's return was not shocking, as the linebacker was listed as probable for the contest, according to a Sept. 25 report from Doug Kyed of NESN.
The Pats had high hopes for Hightower when they selected him with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and he truly came into his own last season. Although he missed four games due to knee and shoulder injuries, he still managed to register 105 tackles and a career-high six sacks.
There were plenty of question marks regarding Hightower's availability for the start of the 2015 campaign due to the labrum surgery, but he seemed fairly comfortable and confident about his status during training camp, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
It's not my first rodeo. I've had surgery before. That's just part of it. There's good days and there's bad days. There are days when you do really well, and there are days when you take a few steps back. But it's all about how you come back and (work) through the adversity and just keep your head down and do it.
With Hightower seemingly progressing well through his recovery, James Christensen of USA Today was among those who were bullish on his prospects for 2015:
New England's defense underwent a significant transformation during the offseason, as cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner as well as longtime nose tackle Vince Wilfork all signed elsewhere.
That placed pressure on the incumbent defensive players to step up, and that group certainly includes Hightower on the heels of his excellent 2014 performance.
Hightower was able to perform at an extremely high level last season despite dealing with multiple injuries, which means there is hope for him to replicate that showing in 2015.
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