Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Friday, January 27, 2012
Spotlight: What Spikes brings to D

By Mike Reiss

There is a lot happening from a media perspective when it comes to coverage of Super Bowl XLVI. Keeping up with it all can be intense.

Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes is peaking at the right time for the Patriots.
With this in mind, I'm going to pick one topic per day to "spotlight" and the choice will be based on the most interesting thing I heard from coaches or players.

We lead it off with the impact of second-year linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has had an up-and-down year (he's currently on the "up" side).

Spikes got off to a strong start in training camp -- one day he delivered a jarring hit in goal-line work that electrified the crowd -- before missing the final month of preseason and the season opener with an ankle injury. Upon his return, he was gradually integrated into the mix, his playing time increasing on a week-to-week basis before hitting a high point Oct. 30 at Pittsburgh when he was on for 74 of 80 snaps.

That total was significant because it showed how Spikes, viewed by many as a run-stuffing linebacker who comes off the field in obvious passing situations, was playing in almost every defensive package. At the same time, the Patriots were hurt by the inside passing game of the Steelers that day as Spikes showed he still had strides to make against the pass.

The following week, in a 24-20 loss to the Giants, Spikes injured his knee early in the third quarter. The injury sidelined him the next seven games and sparked a question of how much he could contribute in the playoffs.

We now have our answer. Spikes is contributing a lot.

After an 18-snap tune-up in the regular-season finale, he played 59 of 71 against the Broncos in the divisional round, and 52 of 73 against the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

What has he brought to the defense?

"A ton of energy," fellow linebacker Rob Ninkovich said Thursday. "He's one of those guys on game day that you want to be around, because he's so amped-up and ready to roll. So I love him out there and it's great having him out there. ... His physical play is just at a higher level. He's just very physical, and he's just great at stopping the run and really getting after people."

On Thursday, Bill Belichick compared Spikes -- who measured 6-foot-2, 7/8 and weighed 250 pounds when coming out of the University of Florida -- to former Giants linebacker and current Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.

"He’s tall like Pepper was. You don’t see a lot of inside linebackers with that kind of height, that 6’4”ish height," Belichick said. "Most guys are a little more compact than that. He’s a pretty powerful guy for being that tall like Pepper was, but a lot of those explosive hitters are six feet, 6’1”, that type of guy. [Brian] Urlacher’s another. I’m just saying there aren’t a lot of them and I think that’s a problem for the quarterback in terms of the passing game because of their length, their height, their range. They get their hands on a lot of balls, but again kind of like Pepper, Brandon has power. He’ll go up and strike with a good thump whether it tackling or taking on blockers, that kind of thing. He’s done a good job for us, he gives us a little bit of a different presence in there."

Belichick also called Spikes instinctive, "which is the biggest part of that position."

"The more you are in the middle of the field, the more guys there are around you, the more things you have to see, the more things that can happen, the better it is for those players to be able to sort it all out and figure out what’s going on. Sometimes that comes easier to some players than others. I think it comes relatively easy to him. He has a good sense for that," Belichick said.