Foxsports.com NFL reporter Alex Marvez picks one player from each team that is primed for a breakout season, with his work presented in slideshow format. His pick for the Patriots: linebacker Brandon Spikes.
"After being sidelined for seven games last season with a sprained knee, Spikes began to blossom in the playoffs," Marvez writes. "He had 26 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in three playoff games, including 11 stops in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. Spikes should be even more effective in his third NFL season. He also will receive additional help with the Patriots augmenting their front seven with the first-round selections of end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower."
It's hard to argue with Marvez's choice, simply based on Super Bowl XLVI. Spikes was arguably the team's best defender in that game.
Here are two thoughts on Spikes:
Staying on the field. Spikes has played in 20 of a possible 32 regular-season games over his first two seasons, missing time because of a 2010 suspension and 2011 knee injury. He also missed most of training camp last year, and one sensed some frustration with his situation. When Bill Belichick was asked about Spikes' work later in the season, when it looked like Spikes was coming on, he referenced how it was just good that Spikes was back on the field working with the club. To take the next step in his career, Spikes needs some good fortune to avoid injuries, while also fully committing himself to put him in the best position to succeed. Belichick values consistency and Spikes has been a bit up and down to this point.
Sub packages. One aspect of Spikes' game that bears watching is his presence in sub packages. When utilized in that role earlier in the 2011 season, such as the Oct. 30 game against the Steelers, the Patriots were hurt in the short- to intermediate passing game in the middle of the field. The Steelers seemed to be targeting Spikes at times. But when Spikes returned from injury late in the season, and he stayed on the field in sub, the results seemed to be a bit better. Some might view Spikes as a Ted Johnson-type early-down run-stuffer, but Spikes has shown flashes he can be more.