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New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Brian Flores may not have the official title of Patriots defensive coordinator, but he’s certainly calling the plays. And Matt Patricia’s apparent successor as the leader of the defense is already putting his imprint on the unit.

If you ask Dont’a Hightower, he’ll tell you the group has been faster and more aggressive. It showed on day 2 of Patriots mandatory minicamp, when they made plays on the ball in both team and individual drills. Whenever players were competing against each other, the defense frequently made its presence felt.

Hightower has been impressed so far with how Flores has modified the defense in his ultra-competitive image.

“He’s not backing down [and will] be more aggressive,” Hightower told ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “You could see it. I think this was probably our best practice we’ve had and we want to continue to build on that.”

Oct 5, 2017, Tampa, FL, USA: New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 5, 2017, Tampa, FL, USA: New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The aggressiveness led to an abundance of playmaking in Wednesday’s second day of minicamp, an encouraging answer from the defense after Tom Brady looked as if he wasn’t facing a defense at all in his return to practice on Tuesday. Hightower popped with a deflected pass over the middle, which Trey Flowers dove for and nearly intercepted. The near-pick drew reactions up and down the Patriots sideline.

Second-year defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. asserted himself at times as well. He was able to penetrate the left side of the offensive line and get legitimate pressure on Tom Brady during 11-on-11s, although they had Matt Tobin at left tackle and Ted Karras at left guard at the time. Wise also forced a fumble from rookie tight end Ryan Izzo during a ball security drill.

The secondary made five other pass breakups on the afternoon, including Stephon Gilmore over the middle against Chris Hogan. Safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, as well as rookie corner Duke Dawson and second-year corner Ryan Lewis, also broke up throws.

Overall, the defense looked surprisingly fast and aggressive, and it’s apparently been a conscious decision by Flores to re-shape their style. Sure, it’s only minicamp, but at the same time the Patriots added elements to simulate real in-game situations on Wednesday. Two officials were on hand, and Flores called plays from the sideline, headset and all.

The whole group will be one to watch on the third and final day of minicamp, as they look to prove that their head-turning performance on Wednesday was not a one-time deal.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.