In the second installment of the "Predicting Patriots 2012 Breakout Performances" series, we take a look at third-year inside linebacker out of the University of Florida, Brandon Spikes.
While Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are the football leaders on New England's defense, Brandon Spikes showcased during his sophomore season that he is clearly the emotional leader. Glowing with passion on every play, Spikes brings a hard-hitting mentality that this defense severely lacks without him.
In a Patriots postgame conference, cornerback Devin McCourty speaks of his teammate:
"Spikes is a very emotional, passionate guy, so whenever he makes a play, everyone goes crazy. That’s just what he brings to the defense and what he brings to the team.”
The former 2010 second-round pick had solid production in his rookie season and paraded a real knack for finding the football. Spikes registered an impressive 61 tackles and one interception in 12 games before being suspended for the last four games of the season for a violation of the NFL's banned substances policy, reportedly for an ingredient in Spikes' ADHD medication.
Unfortunately, the promising young talent wasn't able to stay on the field much throughout the 2011 season, either.
In a Week 9 battle against the New York Giants last season, Spikes suffered a knee injury that would keep him out for seven subsequent games. Despite only playing in eight games in 2011, he managed to tally 47 tackles, averaging nearly six tackles per game. Losing Spikes was a big hit to the defense that was already lacking playmakers. Upon his return, Spikes appeared to bring new life to the struggling defense and was a key cog in their Superbowl run.
Spikes appeared to shift into his highest gear when the playoffs began, where he totaled 26 tackles, one sack, two passes defensed and a timely interception that helped seal the deal in the AFC Championship Game against the Ravens.
"He's long, he's powerful, he's an explosive guy," Belichick said. "He's very 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."
Once heavily criticized as only a first- and second-down player, Brandon Spikes is making the case that not only is he a three-down player, but that he also has potential to be one of the better inside linebackers in the league. Spikes is an undeniably instinctive player, a sound tackler and a natural leader.
If he can stay healthy throughout 2012, look for Brandon Spikes to earn his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Last Week's Prediction: Ras-I Dowling