COMMENTARY | It's two weeks into the 2013 season for the New England Patriots, and it's obvious the team has some issues to work out despite a 2-0 record. One question that needs to be asked is what's wrong with linebacker Brandon Spikes?
The hard-hitting Spikes is in his fourth year with the Patriots after a stand-out career with the University of Florida. Teaming him with Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower was supposed to give the Patriots one of the best young group of linebackers in the league.
Head coach Bill Belichick even went out of his way talk up Spikes this offseason to NESN.com. "Brandon's a very instinctive player, and he catches on quickly. He just kind of knows where the ball is, and sometimes it's not exactly the way you would coach it in terms of the keys, and what his footwork, and steps and all that would be, but he has a good ability to find the ball and know where the play is."
Unfortunately, Spikes has not come close to living up to his coach's praise this season.
In the last year of his rookie contract, it was assumed the 26-year-old would have a big season to lock in a lucrative extension with New England or a rich free-agent contract with another team. Like most players, he would have liked to have been re-upped prior to the season, but that did not happen.
There were whispers this offseason, questioning the motivations of Spikes, when he decided to forego organized team activities to work out alone. He claimed it was to train himself to be a more complete three-down linebacker, but it was hard not to speculate the decision had something to do with disappointment over the lack of an extension.
During his career, Spikes has established himself as a tough player against the run, who can deliver as hard a lick as anybody in the NFL. On the other hand, he has struggled so much against the pass it has often kept him off the field on third downs.
Even so, he had a career-year last season, delivering 92 tackles, a sack, and five forced fumbles in 15 games.
For his part, Spikes doesn't believe his supposed deficiency exists, telling MassLive.com's Nick Underhill, "I'm kind of dumbfounded everybody keeps saying that. I don't really understand what you guys are saying. As I said, whenever my number is called I go in and try to get it done."
Spikes went on to say he isn't motivated by his contract situation, explaining, "They brought me here to do a great job and that's what I pride myself on." Such an attitude should lead to good results, but so far, he has been an utter disappointment this season.
In Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, he was on the field for only a few plays before heading to the locker room with what was announced as dehydration, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss. It was unclear how Spikes became dehydrated so early in the game, especially with it being played in Buffalo, which didn't see temperatures get out of the 60s that day.
Since the situation was never explained further and Spikes didn't miss any subsequent practice time or appear on the next week's injury report, it's fair to wonder if there wasn't more to the story.
Despite being at full health in Week 2 against the New York Jets, Spikes didn't factor much in the Patriots' 13-10 victory. Reiss reported the linebacker played only 31 of a possible 74 snaps, and that he was only on the field when the team was in its base defense and never with their nickel packages.
Spikes has quietly combined for just five tackles in those two games, and done little to stand out. While there is some air of mystery about his reduced number of snaps, it seems the team doesn't trust him once again as an every-down player.
As an impending free agent, he has a lot at stake to have a big year. If he improves his play and consistency, he stands to not only make himself a lot of money, but also help the Patriots have a successful season. Until he does that, it's fair to wonder why he has been missing in action and if his chances of returning to New England next year are diminishing by the day.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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