McCourty: Players have to step up with Spikes out

McCourty: Players have to step up with Spikes out
January 7, 2014, 3:30 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

FOXBORO -- You can check the numbers if you want an idea of what the Patriots will miss from Brandon Spikes.

Pass coverage? Pro Football Focus ranks Spikes No. 38 among the league's linebackers. But in run defense, he's the best by far. Overall, PFF lists Spikes in the Top 10 at the position, at No. 6.

But the attributes rattled off by his teammates go beyond the gridiron.

"Intimidation. Fire," Dont'a Hightower said Tuesday. "He just brings that spark to the defense that a lot of people don't. If somebody needs to say something, it's usually Spikes. It's not a captain, a 15-year-old vet. It's usually him."

New England's defense was already down two starters and locker room leaders -- defensive captains Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo -- before Spikes was relegated to injured reserve January 6. The team must again employ its ' Next Man Up' mantra and hope for the best. But where Wilfork and Mayo's seasons ended in October, the Patriots have had months to adjust.

Now in the postseason, they have just one week to work it out.

"We're going to miss him a lot. He's a guy who's played a lot of snaps around here," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "I think the key is just stepping up. I think it's not going to be one guy that can replace what he's brought, just like with all the guys we've lost. As a defense, everyone going to have to step up."

It's not just the linebacker corps who will have to pick up the slack; McCourty pointed to himself, fellow cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety Steve Gregory as veterans who have to brace the defense for yet another personnel hit.

What that means is supporting players like Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins who will replace Spikes' snaps. They must also make sure the job gets done without anyone trying to do too much. 

"I don't think anyone should have to step outside of who they are to try to fill the role of what Spikes is. I think what he is is key to what he brings because that's just him being himself. All of us defensively have to just be ourselves. Let our play doing the talking," McCourty concluded.

"We know it's not going to be Spikes this year, but someone on this defense has got to step up and make some big plays."