|Bill Belichick on Brandon Spikes: ‘We all know the rules and the guidelines’||06.12.13 at 12:44 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Without mentioning his name, Bill Belichick addressed the Brandon Spikes situation on Wednesday.
Asked about his reaction when a player chooses to work out on his own away from the team, as was the case with Spikes during OTAs, Belichick offered this:
“It is what it is,” he said “We all know what the rules and the guidelines are and that’s what they are.”
May OTA’s are technically voluntary but every NFL team mandates some form of attendance and/or participation from players under contract in June mini-camp.
Spikes has been in attendance this week, and spoke Tuesday. He said he likes to do things “a little different than everybody else.”
Can it affect a player’s position on the team if he chooses not to be here?
“It is what it is,” Belichick said. “We don’t make the rules.”
|Brandon Spikes: ‘I do things a little different from everybody else’||06.11.13 at 3:55 pm ET|
FOXBORO — While there was a big crowd gathered to talk to one former Gator following Tuesday’s minicamp session, another one who will have a far greater impact on the fortunes of the 2013 Patriots drew a far smaller group.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes — making his first appearance on the practice fields behind Gillette this offseason — was limited as he took part in Tuesday’s minicamp session. The occasionally combustible linebacker, who steered clear of the OTAs earlier this spring, appeared to be limited in what he was able to do, but jumped in as part of the 11-on-11 drills at the end of the workout.
He certainly didn’t appear to be at full strength, but when it came to explaining his absence from the spring sessions — sessions that we voluntary — he didn’t hold back.
“I just feel 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,” the 25-year-old explained. “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.”
There was a school of though that said Spikes, who is heading into the final year of his contract, was trying to force the issue when it came to getting a new deal. While his absence certainly drew the attention of coach Bill Belichick — who took a minor shot at the linebacker, saying, “All of our players except one have been here regularly through the offseason up until this week” — Spikes smiled when he was asked if his absence was related to a desire for a new contract.
“Now you know I can’t speak on that,” he said with a laugh. “Why would you ask me that? No comment, guys. No comment.”
While he was away (he was working out at Bommarito’s in Florida, a favorite spot of former Patriots receiver Wes Welker), he made sure to stay in touch with his teammates who were at the facility.
“I stayed in contact with some guys, making sure things weren’t changing in the meeting rooms and things like that,” he said. “I just wanted to stay on top of my game and I felt like being somewhere else, being on my own I normally do better and be productive that way.
“The guys embraced me as soon as I walked in the door. It’s cool,” he added. ““Of course. It’s good to see all the teammates, new guys, younger guys – it feels good to run around a little bit.”
A 6-foot-2, 255-pounder who has built a rep as one of the premiere run stoppers in the league, Spikes has made it a point to try and become a three-down linebacker. (He finished with a career-best seven passes defensed last year.) While it remains to be seen if he can be a linebacker who can contribute in pass coverage — an area where the New England linebacking corps struggled last season — he knows he’s entering a pivotal year. If he can prove that he’s evolved into a linebacker who can stay on the field on passing downs, he could be in line for a sizable payday.
He’s certainly started on the right foot — he said Tuesday that he’s feeling as good now as when he was a rookie.
“I feel awesome,” he said. “I feel great. Ready to go.”
|10 most intriguing veterans on Patriots roster||05.07.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
This spring, there are several notable names on the Patriots roster who are starting an important period in their careers for one of four reasons. One, because they might be on the hot seat this year as part of a looming positional battle. Two, they’ve been on the shelf for an extended stretch and are a question mark when it comes to how much they might be able to contribute. Three, they have yet to take a snap in the Patriots system, which makes it difficult when it comes to gauging how they might fit in Foxboro. And four, they are entering a contract year and could have their fortunes down the road tied to their performance in 2013.
With that in mind, here’s our list of this spring’s 10 most intriguing veterans on the New England roster.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib, who was acquired from the Bucs in a November trade, wasn’t an elite corner by any stretch, but his presence allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety and install Kyle Arrington in the slot. With that personnel combination in the secondary, the Patriots pass defense had great improvement across the board. (The continuity of having the same five guys at the same spots in the defensive backfield also helped, and with his return, should help going forward.) Despite some injury issues — his departure in the AFC title game, combined with New England’s lack of a coverage linebacker, left the Patriots struggling to defend against Joe Flacco — Talib became a key part of the defense. He re-signed with the Patriots on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal that creates incentives for both him and the team. If he has a terrific year, he gets to return to the open market with a chance to really cash in, and the team gets a top-level corner for a year at relatively low cost.
Tight end Jake Ballard: The former Giant was plucked off the New York roster last June and spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a knee injury in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, he was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010 but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with New York (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns). Ballard is intriguing for a couple of reasons. One, he hasn’t been on the field for a year, and remains a bit of an unknown commodity because of his inactivity. And two, if Rob Gronkowski is on the shelf for any amount of time, Ballard (provided he’s healthy) should see an increase in reps, as his game has some elements of Gronkowski.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead: One of the most intriguing veteran prospects the Patriots have brought in this spring, this CFL import — who stands 6-foot-5, 300 pounds — could provide a boost to the New England pass rush. The 22-year-old, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and never was cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the team with 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead and Jason Vega are the two CFL imports who joined the New England roster this offseason.)
(When it comes to making the transition from the CFL to the NFL, Marc Trestman — a former CFL coach who was named coach of the Bears this offseason — thinks it can be done. “There are some players up there certainly that have shown they can play in the NFL, that’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who have shown up down here did a pretty good job of fitting in,” he said. “Players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character. They want to master their craft, they want to be the best they can be, and some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and have done well. These guys love football up there and have dreams of wanting to do it down here, and those who can, will give it a try. Those who can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.”)
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|The Patriots and their continuing search for coverage linebackers||04.09.13 at 1:37 pm ET|
The Patriots have been looking for coverage linebackers for the last year-plus. Veteran Bobby Carpenter had a brief audition last season but didn’t click. Jeff Tarpinian has been on and off the roster the last couple of years, and while Rob Ninkovich can still drop into coverage — he has four career picks — he’s transitioned more into a pass-rusher at this point in his career.
While Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower have shown an ability to run with tight ends and running backs in coverage the last few years, the Patriots still could use a linebacker who could work in coverage in space, specifically in nickel packages on passing downs. (Going back and rewatching the AFC title game, while the injury to cornerback Aqib Talib affected New England’s pass defense, it’s clear the Patriots also struggled to defend the middle of the field against the Ravens passing game.)
As prep work for the 2013 season begins this month, here are four possibilities for the Patriots to keep in mind when it comes to coverage linebackers.
1. One player who wasn’t available in 2012 but could provide a boost in 2013 is Dane Fletcher. The 6-foot-2, 242-pound linebacker went down with a season-ending knee injury in August, but in the past he has shown an occasional ability to be someone who could contribute on passing downs. At the end of the 2011, he fundamentally took over the coverage job that was held for a few seasons by Gary Guyton — he averaged more than half the defensive snaps played over the final four games of the 2011 regular season — and while he didn’t reinvent the position, he certainly showed enough to be considered when you’re talking about coverage linebackers in New England in 2013.
2. For what it’s worth, Spikes did improve over the course of the season — remarkably, he finished with seven passes defensed, although that could be because opposing offenses threw in his direction so much because they believed he was a liability in coverage. Regardless, seven passes defensed is pretty impressive, particularly when you consider the fact that he was tied for third on the team with starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. He is never going to be confused with Ty Law when it comes to working in pass defense, but if he continues to show improvement, he could become a legitimate three-down linebacker in 2013.
(One other thing to remember about Spikes — the linebacker is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and if he continues to trend upward — particularly when it comes to working in coverage — and stay healthy, he could end up costing the Patriots more money than they may have initially anticipated.)
While Mayo has consistently shown an ability to work well in coverage over the course of his career (he had three passes defensed and a pick in 2012), the one to really watch this year could be Hightower. Although he had his rookie moments, he did show enough over the course of his first season in the NFL that could lead you to believe that he can contribute on a regular basis. To that point, Pro Football Focus had him at +3.1 in pass coverage as a rookie — that was second-best among all New England linebackers in 2012, trailing only Mayo’s +5.6.
|Brandon Spikes: ‘Either go hard or go home’||01.08.13 at 5:25 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Brandon Spikes has seen the playoffs with the Patriots from a couple of different perspectives, both equally disappointing and painful.
He desperately wants the chance to finally finish one successfully.
“Postseason is what it’s about,” said the second-round pick of the Patriots in 2010 (62nd overall). “Either go hard or go home. It’s that simple. So, definitely looking forward to this. It’s everything we’ve built on in terms of physicality and they’re coming out trying to run the ball and we want to establish the dominance early.”
“It is postseason. We’re going to be ready no matter what. We’re expecting the unexpected so we’re definitely going to be prepared.”
Spikes was on the 2010 team that suffered a shocking 28-21 loss to the Jets in the AFC divisional round after thumping them 45-3 on a Monday night several weeks earlier. He was also on the team last season that came so close against the Giants in the Super Bowl, a game in which he made a team-leading 11 tackles.
With Jerod Mayo in the background making faces, Spikes was asked about last year and being so close, and if it motivates him right now.
“Why do you have to bring that up? Come on,” Spikes said with a good-natured smile. “I’m trying to forget about that. Like I said, of course, everybody feels like we came up short but that’s part of the game. That’s part of football. We just have to come and do whatever we can not to let that happen again. We had a great day today and looking forward to tomorrow and trying to get better and get that edge.
“I approach the postseason like, ‘That’s it.’ If we don’t come out and play well, we’re going to be at home, plain and simple, watching the next game. That’s a terrible feeling. We just have to come out and execute.”
This year, Spikes has had a breakout season, second on the team to Mayo in tackles with 128. He’s also been nursing a sore knee and ankle. But the week off helped.
“I feel great,” Spikes said Tuesday. “I’ve been feeling great. But it’s postseason, it’s been a long year and nobody’s healthy, nobody is 100 percent. I just have to deal with it and try to get better every day.”
“You just have to leave it all out there or go home. It’s that simple. We want to come out and play well and definitely in the postseason at home. We’re looking forward to this game.”
They’ll need that attitude on Sunday when they take on Arian Foster, coming of a 140-yard, 32-carry game against the Bengals in the wild-card round.
“He’s an all-around player,” Spikes said. “He’s one of the emotional guys for them. He obviously gets the offense going and that team going. He’s definitely a big target for us and as far as the linebackers and entire front seven, we want to come out and contain him, definitely.”
|Bill Belichick and the sweet science of the turnover||11.30.12 at 3:05 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots lead the NFL in turnover differential by a landslide. They have a +24, twice the number of the Ravens, the No. 2 team in the AFC in that category. The plus-24 is also 11 better than the next closest team in the NFL, the Bears.
Because the Patriots have perfected the art of stripping the ball from the carrier – rusher, receiver or quarterback – better than anyone. And like anything with Bill Belichick, there’s a science to it.
The Patriots have recovered 18 fumbles while committing just five of their own.
How often do they work on it?
“Every day,” Belichick said Friday. “We work on stripping the ball every day; recovering them every day. We talk about opportunities to get the ball out as we watch film. It’s no different than the way it’s been – we’ve done that since I was with the Giants. It’s part of your defense.”
The Patriots are about to seal their 12th straight winning season under Belichick. Turnover differential is arguably the biggest reason why.
Only twice in Belichick’s 13 seasons have they had a negative number. In 2000, his first season, they were minus-2 and finished 5-11. In 2005, they were minus-6, the worst in his 13 seasons but still finished 10-6 and won the AFC East.
Since 2005, they have posted six straight seasons of plus turnover differential and are well on their way to making it seven.
Usually this is a team stat but there’s two stars on this team that have perfected it – Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich, each with five. Ninkovich has recorded all of his on strip sacks this season, matching Mike Vrabel in 2007 for the franchise record. Why is he so good at stripping it and recovering it as opposed to some other guys who look clumsy trying to pick up the ball?
“It’s just like everybody else, some guys are better at some things than others,” Belichick said “Other guys are better at some things than they are at other things. I don’t know. A big part of causing fumbles is awareness, timing speed can play into it, coming up from behind – that’s usually a good opportunity to cause fumbles is by a defensive back or a linebacker, could be by a defensive linemen running down guys from behind, backs, receivers, quarterbacks, whoever it happens to be.
“Those are usually good strip opportunities. He’s had a number of those. Rob has good awareness, he’s a good athlete and he does a lot of things well. He runs well, has good quickness, catches the ball well – he’s had a bunch of interceptions for us. I think guys that have those kind of skills have a little more propensity to find the ball, knock it out and come up with it cleanly.
Does Belichick watch how opponents’ ball handlers carry the ball?
“Carry it, throw it, yeah,” he said. “Again, whatever opportunities we have. When we see certain types of plays, certain techniques, we point those out to the players – If we were in this situation, we would have an opportunity to be in the throwing lane or disrupt the ball or strip it out or if we read this, we would have a chance to undercut the route and intercept it or whatever it happens to be. As we’re watching plays we talk about those things, sure. Maybe it’s not on that particular play because of what the other team’s defense is in but we’d say, ‘OK, if we were in this defense, if we were here or if you were in this position, then this is the play you would want to try to make.’ Then there would be a drill, maybe we wouldn’t be doing it that day, but a drill that we have done that we would talk about and say, ‘OK, here’s an example of how we would use this drill or this technique.’ Yeah sure, we talk about it all the time. Read the rest of this entry »
|Brandon Spikes: ‘I want to be the best at my position’||11.01.12 at 3:59 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The way Brandon Spikes sees it, the bye week is just another week for him to refine the skills that have made him one of the most feared linebackers in the game today.
Entering the bye, Spikes has 50 tackles in eight games, with three forced fumbles and one sack. With 19 tackles in his last two games, he is playing inside linebacker with a consistency not seen in his previous two seasons. This is what the Patriots saw in him when they drafted him in the second round out of Florida in 2010.
“I just think we have a ways to go,” Spikes said Thursday. “It’s just like a roller coaster, and I’m just like every professional, I want to play well every game. If we can just stay on point, and just keep trying to attack and get better each week, I think we have a chance to get good. We’re young but still, we have some things to get done.”
Spikes has learned a great deal playing next to Jerod Mayo and rookie Dont’a Hightower. He is clearly on his way to becoming an “every down” linebacker but before he gets there he knows he has to still work on his pass coverage reads. But listen to him, and you get the impression he’s doing everything in his power to speed up that process, even during the bye.
“Me personally, I’m still going to be working,” Spikes said. “I’m not just saying that to you guys. Honestly, I just want to be a professional. I want to be the best at my position. I can’t let a day get by. I’m definitely going to enjoy my family but at the same time, I’m still trying to get the edge.”
Sporting a red hat with yellow lettering that read “I (heart) haters,” Spikes said Thursday that he models his game after Bears hall of famer Dick Butkus, who told him to keep hitting people hard.
Asked if the bye might help him rejuvenate since he plays the game with such fury, Spikes said he’s felt as good as he’s felt in his career, a career that was interrupted by knee issues in the first two seasons, including a strained MCL last year.
“Honestly, this is the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” Spikes said with a huge smile. “I feel like I’m 18. I can go places, I feel great. Seriously, I’m a physical guy, I’m a big-boned guy, I don’t really feel any of it. It’s the bye, I may enjoy it but like I said, I’m still trying to get the edge.”
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