Patriots ILB Brandon Spikes was putting together a pretty stellar rookie season. Paired with Jerod Mayo, Spikes helped the Patriots form the league's 11th best defense against the run. He started eight of the 12 games he played in, notched 16 tackles against the Ravens and had an interception against the Jets.
Unfortunately for Spikes, that Week 13 game against the Jets was the last regular-season game he would play in, and the rookie barely made a ripple in the Pats' playoff loss to the Jets.
Spikes was suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Reports indicated that Spikes' medication to treat ADD caused the positive test. He is certainly not in Bill Belichick's doghouse.
He returned for the playoff game, but did not start and recorded one tackle in the 28-21 loss, deferring most of his playing time to Gary Guyton.
It has been a generally quiet offseason for Spikes. He was a no-show at the team's informal workouts at Boston College in June. Although it's unfair to read too much into that it is worth noting. Spikes hit the news again in July, this time for his tweets, as it appeared he had hurt himself in a basketball game, a story that his agent Drew Rosenhaus refuted.
It should not be ignored how well Spikes played against the run last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Spikes did not miss a tackle in 37 chances, the only linebacker to not miss a tackle with at least 25 attempts. He needs to build off that and forget how the season ended.
Guyton played well in Spikes' absence, recording three sacks and two interceptions on the season. Undrafted rookie Dane Fletcher also impressed, although he's more of a cover 'backer and is used in the nickel.
"It was devastating, I still have nightmares," Spikes told the Boston Herald when training camp began. "But the best thing about it is it's in the past. Can't do nothing about it but move on, try to better yourself and just try to play better."
The Patriots are expected to utilize more 4-3 schemes this season, which would have Spikes in the middle, increasing his importance against the run. Middle linebacker was his position in college, and maybe moving back there could help boost Spikes' confidence after the way the 2010 season ended. Based on what he said at training camp, Spikes is more than ready to move on from the way his rookie campaign concluded.
In his sophomore season, Spikes is saying the right things, now he has to prove that his suspension and playoff performance are old news when he hits the field.