Former Bengal Spikes likes team's edge

CINCINNATI -- The world was much different when Takeo Spikes played inside linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals.

On average, gas nationwide was less than $1.40 per gallon. Three generations of Boston Red Sox fans still hadn't seen a World Series win. Bengals fans were going through a different type of misery. Their team was far from what it is now.

Plain and simple, the Bengals were awful, pitiful, and any other adjective you can think of that describes the abysmal play that defined their existence in the decade prior to that point. By the end of the 2002 season they hadn't been to the playoffs in a dozen years. The organization was so bad in the five years Spikes played for it that he saw only 19 wins.

He also was part of 61 losses.

These days, brown paper bags aren't the game day accessory of choice for Who Dey Nation. Instead, rose-colored glasses -- ones with orange-and-black striped frames, naturally -- are what Bengals fans are looking out of. The regular-season wins are coming. The postseason appearances are steady. The only real similarity to those Spikes-led teams that never saw the playoffs is that this most recent Bengals manifestation simply can't get past the opening 60 minutes of the postseason.

Spikes thinks that will soon change.

"I've only been in here for like three hours," Spikes said to reporters from inside a Paul Brown Stadium hallway Thursday afternoon, "[but] the sense I get is that a lot of the guys are pissed at the way last year ended.

"They're out to prove a point."

A self-proclaimed "Bengal for life," Spikes likes the thought of that.

"Talking with the guys, seeing how the guys walk, the culture has changed," Spikes said. "Expectations are different."

The former 1998 first-round draft pick was in Cincinnati to help with Sirius XM Radio's coverage of training camp from the Bengals' practices. He's had a number of other opportunities as a radio and television analyst since his career ended after the 2012 season.

Spikes played with the Bengals until 2002, leaving as a free agent the same offseason Marvin Lewis took over as head coach. The two met often in the weeks before Spikes bolted for Buffalo, but never got to fully know one another until they had long moved on in their respective careers.

In 2012, just before the Bengals were playing Spikes' last team, the Chargers, Lewis mentioned how much he hated letting Spikes leave so easily. Lewis' goal at that time was to establish a new identity and culture around the organization. The beloved linebacker was an unintended casualty of the philosophical change that was occurring.

"I wish I could've got it done better," Lewis said two years ago of Spikes' free-agency negotiations. "It's one that got away."

Even though Spikes only spent a portion of his career with the Bengals, and none of it with Lewis' reclamation projects, he still pays attention to what the organization does. He believes the changes to offensive identity will make the team build upon its disappointing first-round playoff exit to San Diego.

"They felt like they left it on the table last year," Spikes said. "For them to put up season highs over a three-year period of time on the offensive side of the ball and the defense to make a lot of noise and to still go down to San Diego, it just felt like it was unfinished business."

Much of what Spikes sensed from players is what daily beat reporters have felt from the team since the organized team activity and minicamp portion of the offseason: That the offense under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is going to pace any changes the Bengals go through.

"On the offensive side of the ball, you will see the mentality switch," Spikes said. "It will damn near look like the defensive side of the ball. I'm excited."

Current Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, a player who has been compared to Spikes, said the defense has had a role in helping the offense flip that mental switch.

"They feed off of us," Burfict said. "We bring a little bit of feistyness, and I can tell they're bringing it, as well. That's just good competition. If I compete at certain levels, the guy in front of me is going to do the same, as well. That's my focus: come out full speed every day and make my offense better."

Whether that edge comes from Burfict or Jackson or anyone else, Spikes knows one thing -- that he likes it.