NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
In 2010, the New England Patriots invested a second-round draft pick in Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes. Three years have since passed, and the polarizing tackler is now entering the final chapter of his rookie contract.
Needless to say, 2013 is a big year for No. 55.
Spikes has trudged through his share of peaks and valleys during his time in Foxboro. And his unpredictability makes it all the more critical that he finishes his fourth season on a good note.
With that in mind, let’s track his development.
The First Three Years
In his initial NFL campaign, the 6’2”, 255-pounder played in 12 contests and started eight of them. He quickly asserted himself as a started inside New England’s 3-4 defensive front. Spikes finished 2010 fifth on the team with 71 tackles, also adding an interception and three passes defensed. Year one was not without a low point, however, as Spikes was suspended four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
That suspension somewhat tainted what was otherwise a very strong inauguration for the former Gators inside backer. That time off also slowed Spikes’s momentum heading into year two.
Well, so did injuries.
Spikes was inactive for the 2011 season opener before returning to play the next seven contests. It was then that Spikes strained his MCL and missed significant time. His second regular season consisted of eight games, six starts, 47 tackles and one pass defensed.
When he was finally healthy enough to return for the 2011 playoffs, Spikes made the most of the opportunity. The Shelby, N.C., native was second on the team in terms of playoff tackles, recording 27. Aside from wrapping up ball-carriers, Spikes also forced a fumble, picked off a pass and batted down two more. It was a time for redemption for Spikes. He was an integral part in why the Patriots landed in the Super Bowl that postseason.
The strong finish carried over to 2012. For the most part, Spikes was able to stay healthy and started 14 of the 15 regular season tilts he took part in. He amassed 92 tackles — a career high — along with a sack, five forced fumbles and seven pass deflections.
It was by far his most effective season to date. As a result, expectations are high moving forward. Can Spikes keep it all together in 2013?
Finding a Balance
Spikes has been coined a “Thumper” due to his downhill playing style. He’s got a wide base and strong arms but is speed deficient — he ran the 40-yard dash in 5.03 and 5.10 seconds at his pro day.
That doesn’t seem to bother him, as he told Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald that he plays faster than his straight-line speed suggests:
“They can just watch the film, and they can see it. Watch the film. ‘He doesn’t look like he’s running no 5.2 right here, a 5-flat. He’s beating people who run 4.6s, that cut 4.5s to the ball.’ I tell youngsters, just put it on tape and it speaks for itself.”
At least on tape, Spikes is the definition of a run-stuffer. He knows how to blitz and shoot the gaps. He’s an instinctual player can to read the pathways and use his deceptive explosion to break through the wall.
While his characteristics help him out in some circumstances, they also make him a liability in others. Spikes is largely considered a two-down linebacker because he’s a little behind the eight ball in regards to coverage.
He’s not going to venture sideline to sideline, he’s not going to cover tight ends or running backs, but he can disrupt some passing lanes due to his vision. Spikes is grooming into more of a well-rounded linebacker. Nonetheless, he does not appear to be the favorite to seize nickel coverage responsibilities next to Jerod Mayo.
After all, there are some quicker-footed linebackers in the fold who can step in and cover. That list includes 26-year-old Dane Fletcher, athletic second-round “Bandit” Jamie Collins, as well as seventh-round middle linebacker Steve Beauharnais.
Spikes is more two-dimensional than he was coming straight out of Gainesville. That said, there may be some better suited candidates for sub packages.
An Under-the-Radar Offseason in a Contact Year
You may have noticed that Spikes has kept a low profile this offseason. That’s been evident both on and off the field.
Spikes hasn’t turned to Twitter to voice his off-color humor since February 28. He also hasn’t turned to Gillette Stadium to work out voluntarily, either, cites Jeff Howe.
Spikes has essentially gone off the grid. And seeing how he’s in the final year of his deal, the timing is quite intriguing.
Working out in Foxboro during the offseason is not mandatory. Many notables have opted to stay in shape elsewhere under their own regimen. But it will be important to keep tabs on Spikes’s conditioning and overall polish with mini camp looming. A source told Howe that he will not be at organized team activities on May 21, May 29 and June 4, as he prefers to work out on his own.
In the meantime, there are some questions to ponder.
Will Spikes be able to stay healthy for a full 16-game season? Will he be productive versus both the run and the pass? And lastly, will he do enough to warrant an extended stay in New England?
Time will tell. All we can do is wait.