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Prospect Watch: Dont'a Hightower

Written by Dan Gigler on .

An occasional look at potential 2012 NFL Draft picks for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Previous installments featured Memphis DT Dontari Poe, Washington DT Alameda Ta'amu and Georgia OL Cordy Glenn. This week: Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower ...

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Although the Steelers have or seemingly will have at least one Hall-of-Fame player at every spot on the field (save free safety and tackle, go figure), perhaps no position is more closely associated with the team than the linebacker. Because Pittsburgh football = defensive football, and from Andy Russell to Jack Lambert to Levon Kirkland to James Harrison, the linebackers -- inside and out -- have been the symbolic soul of Steelers defenses.

And right now, there's a 'help wanted' sign at inside linebacker.

With the release of James Farrior earlier this month, the Steelers will rely on Larry Foote to patrol the middle with Lawrence Timmons, but the ten-year veteran Foote doesn't figure to be in the team's long-term plans. And after that ... Stevenson Sylvester and Chris Carter are the only other true ILBs on the roster, and while both have some potential, neither has shown to be starter material, or else the Steelers might have released Foote too.

Enter Dont'a Hightower of the University of Alabama.

A team captain for the National Champion Crimson Tide -- he started every game he played in four years in Tuscaloosa --

He's listed as Mike Mayock's No. 2 ILB prospect, behind Boston College's Luke Kuechly, (a consensus top-15 pick), Hightower figures to be available when the Steelers pick at No. 24. At 6'2" 265-pounds, Hightower is a big dude -- think a more chiseled Levon Kirkland -- and is consistently projected as a good fit for a 3-4 scheme. He's the kind of guy that could start for years for Pittsburgh and be a tackling machine.

If the Steelers don't reach for Dontari Poe or one of the better OLs, Hightower would make for an excellent safe pick and address a need (albeit not the most glaring one). Steelers fans -- you'll likely get to know Hightower one way or another -- if Pittsburgh doesn't pick him, expect Baltimore to do so as Ray Lewis's eventual replacement.

Here are excerpts of what the experts have to say about Hightower:

Mocking the Draft:

Coverage: Wasn’t used a lot in coverage at Alabama, but stayed on the field in passing situations. Because of his short-area quickness and intelligence, Hightower should hold up well in zone coverage. Reads running back routes nicely ... Instincts/recognition: ... Knows his assignments and is quick to diagnose. ... Can play either spot inside on a 3-4 defense. Made the calls for the defense.  ... Pursuit: ... Is a little deficient moving around sideline-to-sideline to make plays. He's much more of a straight-ahead player who struggles to open up his hips and get around the field. Run defense: In this year's draft, there is no better run-stopping linebacker between the tackle than Hightower. He's stout at the point of attacks and a great tackler. ...  NFL-ready strength in run defense ... Final word: Hightower was the leader of the talented Alabama defense the past two seasons. He's an excellent run defender because of his instincts and strength. He's one of the surest tacklers in this year's draft and NFL-ready from a physical standpoint ... "

NFL.com: "Strengths -- Hightower is lengthy and imposing lining up in the middle of a defense. He has long arms that he uses effectively to fight off blockers ... not the most athletic mover in space, but he uses his arms to tie up receivers within his zone and hand fight tight ends off the ball. He is technically sound, although his style of play looks effortless. ... Hightower doesn't quite possess the speed to be a true sideline-to-sideline inside backer or be the sole tackler in the middle of a 3-4 defense, he uses his instincts well and remains in position. Weaknesses -- ... excels within the box but likely won't run down many scat backs at the next level. He is good to defend the pass in zone but struggles to maintain coverage in man after trying to disrupt at the line. ... can overshoot plays at times."

Tony Pauline, Sports Illustrated (after 'Bama's pro day): "In Tuscaloosa, Don'ta Hightower stood on his 40 time from the combine, but did improve one inch in the vertical jump, touching 33 inches. During drills, Hightower showed some stiffness changing direction and was not quick in coverage drills. His backpedal looked mechanical and forced, while Hightower showed little in the way of being able to burst out of his plant. He's a big, forceful linebacker with solid straight line speed, but Hightower did nothing today to dispel the belief he's a two-down defender."

National Football Post: "A strong, thickly built middle linebacker prospect with a long set of arms, strong hands and muscular looking lower half ... Is a powerful in the box run defender. Exhibits a burst when asked to close downhill, takes good angles inside and has a jarring pop on contact. ... At times will struggle to find the football on some miss-direction plays and lacks the kind of speed to make up for a slow recognition.  ... Is very natural making quick decisions on the fly and creating impact plays ... Motor tends to run hot and cold. Is a talented kid who has the skill set to dominate, but too often doesn't seem into the game and will get lazy ... Impression: Looks like a potential impact caliber 34-inside linebacker who has the skill set to win inside vs. the run and create pressure on third down as a savvy rush guy as well."

And here are some highlight videos:

2011 season highlights video:

vs. Florida in 2010:

Terrifying Aaron Rodgers' little bro:

A big blitz stop in the BCS title game:

And finally, Hightower in his own words on NFL.com

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