Johnson: Spikes plays like a linebacker should

Johnson: Spikes plays like a linebacker should
July 30, 2013, 11:00 am
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FOXBORO – Pepper Johnson knows linebackers.

He played the position for 13 seasons in the NFL and he has coached the position for six seasons with the Patriots (he also did the D-line for eight seasons here in New England).

Brandon Spikes is different from most. But he’s not unique, according to Johnson. Spikes, the Patriots’ quirky, aggressive middle linebacker, actually has a semi-doppelganger that Johnson used to play with.

Bryan Cox.

“I tell him that,” said Johnson. “Cox would go about it a little differently. A little stiffer guy. But mentality-wise … Cox was a mouthy guy. Cox would talk before the play, during the play, after the play. Spikes is more of a mouthy guy (to the other team). If you (ask the other sideline) I’m sure they’d tell you how much he talks.”

Cox was a violent player whose on-field emotion often got away from him. The three-time Pro Bowler played with the Dolphins, Bears, Jets, Patriots and Saints during his 13-year career.

Spikes has a long way to go before he reaches Cox’ level of play or crazy. But as a comparison, it’s about as close as you can get. Channeling Spikes’ focus and making sure the crazy is productive is Johnson’s job.

“I like his attitude of going forward,” Johnson said on Monday. “He plays the game going forward a lot, he plays the game very aggressively. I tried to pattern myself after that. I tried to play the game aggressively. There were a lot of guys who I looked up to in the league. Harry Carson, Willie Lanier, that I watched that played the game aggressive and that’s how he goes about it.”

Does Spikes’ quirkiness put his personality at cross-purposes with the way the Patriots want to do business, Johnson was asked.

“He’s a character,” Johnson allowed. “First of all, it’s a different day and era. Some of the things that motivated us to go out and play the game don’t necessarily motivate a lot of the guys now and vice versa. His view and what wakes him up every morning and what shoes to put on and what shirt and all that stuff it might not be the same view as I (had). But when he steps out on the field that’s what really matters to me and his attitude on the football field is aggressive first and I’ll worry about all of the other things later. He plays the game like a linebacker’s supposed to.”

For Spikes, a free agent at the end of the year, Johnson’s notion of worrying “about all of the other things later” is pertinent.

The, uhhh, creative tension Spikes brings is palpable. He didn’t take part in the offseason workouts, he proclaimed, because he thought he could get in better shape for the ultimate team sport on his own.

When the 90 players on the roster go through their pre-practice stretching and jogging, Spikes is always at the end of the line. Maybe he’s stretching a little. Maybe he’s jogging a little. Maybe he’s not. He isn’t his own planet over there. Vince Wilfork is usually next to him, taking things a little more seriously but not much. And Johnson often posts up in the same area.

In those two, you have a decorated former player and coach and one of the best defenders in the NFL. In Spikes, you have a fourth-year player who hasn’t really done jack in the league other than signal that he might be a very good player if he allows himself to be.

And you wonder if Wilfork and Johnson are near Spikes because they like him or to trying to rein him in. Or a little of both.