Spikes' on-field fire will be missed

Spikes' on-field fire will be missed
January 7, 2014, 9:30 am
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Brandon Spikes was missing from Patriots practice on Wednesday.

(AP Photo)

It’s like a demonic football test.
 
“OK, your defense is playing well . . . let’s see how it does without Vince . . . hmmm . . . pretty good. So now we take Tommy Kelly . . . still not bad. Hows about we then hold the Mayo for you . . . not so sharp now are ya . . . but still not as bad as we expected . . . well, there goes your Spikes.”
 
Will the loss of Brandon Spikes, placed on IR Monday with a knee injury, be the death knell for the New England defense?

It’s gonna be close. Because he had become the heart-and-soul of the defense in the absence of all those other heart-and-soul guys.
 
After the Patriots rallied to beat Denver, Devin McCourty told me during our Quick Slants dinner at the Renaissance that Spikes was the player who helped the defense turn it around. His leadership at halftime and in the second half, according to McCourty, had a big hand in the defensive success against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the second half.
 
Spikes’ role since all the other interior front-seven players went down has been to attack the line of scrimmage in the running game. He is a liability in coverage, but he hits like a diesel train and Spikes was let loose on run blitzes once the Patriots’ shortcomings in stopping the run became apparent.
 
The two men who’ll likely divvy up Spikes’ role are Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins. Neither is as adept at stopping the run. Collins’ development throughout the season has been impressive. Fletcher is an undersized but hardworking guy who will probably be the early-down replacement for Spikes who usually came off the field in medium and long-yardage situations.
 
Meanwhile, Spikes will be a free agent at the end of the season. His role is well-defined here in New England: run-stopper. Spikes has said he wants to be a three-down linebacker. He may have to go elsewhere to find that opportunity.