How Can Brandon Spikes Earn a Big Contract for 2014?

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How Can Brandon Spikes Earn a Big Contract for 2014?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have a big decision on their hands next offseason with linebacker Brandon Spikes set to hit the open market if he is not re-signed.

He was absent from OTAs, lighting a fire under the debate of whether the team would bring him back. Instead, he was training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Florida. Spikes said, via Boston.com:

"I just felt like I was trying to put myself in the best position to compete for a spot on the team and also help this team win a championship. You guys know me; I do things a little different from everybody else. I don’t think that’s bad or a shocker. Honestly, if everybody in this world was a conformist, it would be one boring place."

His absence created quite a stir in the media but he trained there last year as well, on his way to the best season of his career thus far.

What other measures can Spikes take to ensure he is brought back following the 2013 season?

 

Improve in Pass Coverage

Spikes has made some plays in coverage in his career, with 12 career pass break-ups and two interceptions.

According to Pro Football Focus, though, Spikes isn't the only Patriots linebacker that's been victimized in coverage. 

The Patriots overall coverage on tight ends has left a lot to be desired, with Football Outsiders ranking them 29th in that respect on an opponent-based scale. They brought in safety Adrian Wilson, who has played in the nickel package during the team's offseason program. They also drafted linebacker Jamie Collins, who has also contributed in that role during practice.

Thus, Spikes' competition is heating up. He has taken measures to improve in that regard this offseason.

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported that Spikes spent some time in Florida training at Bommarito Performance Systems, in an effort to prove he is a three-down linebacker. Bommarito Performance Systems president Pete Bommarito recently told NFL.com:

"It's basically strength and conditioning work. Just speed work, conditioning, that kind of stuff that we know he responds to. Just trying to basically build and work on overall athleticism. With him, it's not really anything that's truly position-specific or sport-specific. The majority of it is just speed, overall joint alignment, making sure he's as healthy as possible, as lean as possible and as strong as possible."

His speed has been one thing that has been lacking in his coverage.

Against the Bills, Spikes (circled in blue) was in coverage on tight end Scott Chandler with Cover 2 on the back end and man coverage underneath.

Within five yards of the line of scrimmage, Chandler got past Spikes and made his way toward the end zone as he ran a seam route right through the heart of the defense.

That allowed a well-placed pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to land behind Spikes, right in between the two safeties and into the hands of Chandler for the touchdown.

If Spikes can improve in coverage, the Patriots will be a better defense, and he will greatly increase his marketability next offseason.

 

Stay Healthy

As of yet, Spikes has not played a full 16-game season. He was suspended for four games for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs in 2010, missed eight games to injury in 2011 and another in 2012.

He had a strained MCL that limited his 2011 season, and a knee/ankle injury kept him out in Week 15 against the Jaguars in 2012.

Some of this is luck-based—it's hard to stay healthy with 200-plus-pound bodies running at high speed in close proximity—but that luck plays a big part in whether a player earns a long-term contract.

Safety Patrick Chung learned the hard way about the effects such an injury can have. He missed time midseason, and the Patriots inserted safety Tavon Wilson into the lineup. They have added a couple more safeties, with Adrian Wilson and Duron Harmon among the most prominent names. 

Once Chung came off the field, his fate was sealed. His playing time took a noticeable hit, and he was largely a non-factor in the playoffs with just three snaps in two games.

Likewise, an injury to Spikes would open the door for other players to earn playing time—which, unfortunately, just creates an opportunity for another player not named Spikes.

 

Be a Leader

The Patriots defense has noted leaders in nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, but even in today's NFL, where players are more protected than ever, a defense can still get a shot of adrenaline from a big hit.

Spikes has laid a lot of big hits in his short time with the Patriots. As a result, he has become something of a motivational leader for the team.

And to think, that was a play in coverage.

Spikes may never get the green dot signifying that he's the one getting and making the calls in the huddle—that distinction has belonged to Mayo for a few years now, even as he has played more on the outside. 

Being a leader is hard to quantify, and there's no direct path to becoming one (looking at you, Cam Newton). 

If Spikes works hard, stays on the field and improves his game, the Patriots would have no reason to let him walk.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all stats obtained from Pro Football Focus' premium section, and all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.

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