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Patriots notebook

Dont’a Hightower is expecting a tough contest against Mike Vrabel’s Titans

Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel is coming off a loss to the lowly regarded Texans.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH — Dont’a Hightower likes what he sees when he watches old Patriots tapes of linebacker Mike Vrabel.

“It looks like he sets the damn edge,” Hightower said Tuesday morning, just before he and his teammates began their preparations to face Coach Vrabel and the Titans in a key AFC clash Sunday.

Hightower called Vrabel “one of the best linebackers to come out of here” and believes he has molded the Titans in his own image.

“He’s built his team kind of how he played,” Hightower said. “Tough, dependable, accountable, physical, smart. All those things. You can see how they play the game offensively and how they are disciplined on defense and how they’re able to cause turnovers and make plays off that. They’re situationally sound.”


The same can be said of the Patriots, who have fashioned a five-game win streak by playing excellent complementary football — something that is expected in New England, where one of the core principles is that the season really starts after Thanksgiving.

“It’s something I’ve heard for a long time,” said Hightower. “Obviously, it’s something that we believe here. Obviously, it’s not that we don’t want to win those early on in the year, but momentum builds. The clock shows the process in terms of how everybody buys in and you just want to play your best ball towards the end of the year.”

Hightower said there is a good feeling among this group, but it’s not something they spend too much time thinking about.

Dont'a Hightower, seen here delivering a hit on Cleveland's Donovan Peoples-Jones, has been at the center of a surging New England defense.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“It feels good knowing everyone is buying in and seeing the process work,” he said. “The execution, the hard work, and all that stuff.

“It’s just kind of the blueprint of what we need to do as far as success goes. But what Bill [Belichick] says every week, it’s refilling the tank.”


The Titans are coming off an upset loss to the Texans, and Hightower knows Vrabel’s club will be looking for a better start this week.

“We’re prepared for everybody to kind of play us as their best game,’’ he said. “They’re a good team. They’re going to come in here ready to play. They’re not going to come in, just because they lost, and give up or nothing.”

Colts game flexed

The Patriots are prime time players yet again.

Their Week 15 game against the Colts will be a Saturday night affair in Indianapolis Dec. 18, the league announced Tuesday. The game had been in limbo for either Dec. 18 or 19 since the schedule was originally announced in the spring.

Belichick’s team will be coming off its bye week (Dec. 12) for the game.

It will be the fourth showcase game this season for the Patriots, who played on “Sunday Night Football” against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 4 and just played on “Thursday Night Football” last week in Atlanta. The Bills host the Patriots on “Monday Night Football” Dec. 6.

New England’s final three games are set for the traditional 1 p.m. block, with back-to-back home games against the Bills (Dec. 26) and Jaguars (Jan. 2) followed by the finale with the Dolphins in Miami Gardens (Jan. 9).

Two new faces

The Patriots debuted some fresh faces, with rookies Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe practicing for the first time in the regular season.


Both draft picks started the season on the nonfootball injury list because of ailments sustained prior to being selected. McGrone, a fifth-round linebacker, tore his ACL at Michigan; Bledsoe, a sixth-round safety from Missouri, suffered a wrist injury during Senior Bowl week.

Could rookie Cameron McGrone provide a defensive boost this season?Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Patriots have a 21-day window in which to activate the players; if not, they will revert to season-ending injured reserve.

Whether they are activated or not, getting three weeks of practice time will be beneficial as McGrone and Bledsoe build on their first-year foundations and prep for 2022 and beyond.

Belichick said in May the team was prepared for the possibility that McGrone would need a medical redshirt season.

“There are no false expectations here,” the coach said. “He should have a good recovery and be a good player. We’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.’’

Bledsoe, who did some noncontact work with what appeared to be a cast on his wrist during the spring, would appear to have the better chance to be activated, as the club doesn’t have a ton of depth at safety behind the trio of Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, and Kyle Dugger.

The Patriots also added to their practice squad by signing left-footed punter Corliss Waitman, who has spent time in the Steelers and Raiders organizations. A South Alabama product, Waitman also did some kickoff and placekicking work in college. Jake Bailey has been on the injury report the last few weeks with a right knee ailment.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.