Feb 5, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (80) fumbles the ball after being hit by New England Patriots outside linebacker Brandon Spikes (55) and free safety Sterling Moore (29) during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Giants retained possession after the Patriots were flagged for too many men on the field. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE

Fletcher Injury means more focus on Brandon Spikes

Brandon Spikes is a young middle linebacker whose presence on the field injects a high amount of energy and ability into a defense, and we’ve seen that first hand when he’s on the field. Spikes has a ton of raw talent, and he is one of the top run-stopping linebackers in the game. The problem is that he has struggled to actually get on the field. After a rookie season in which he missed four games due to a suspension, Spikes was only able to play in eight regular season games due to a strained MCL.

Speaking of injuries, the injury to Dane Fletcher is a terrible early injury to have for the New England Patriots linebacker corps. Not only is he a quality backup who developed nicely last year, but he can also play some games should Brandon Spikes miss some more time. After all, he is coming off of a severe injury last year.

Spikes is currently out right now, which is testing the Patriots linebacker depth even more. For now, starting SLB Dont’a Hightower has been moved to the inside to replace Spikes. Hopefully, he will be back in time for the regular season after not dressing for the preseason game.

The current starting strong-side linebacker for the Patriots is Bobby Carpenter; a former bust who has reinvented himself as a quality sub-package linebacker. Knocked for being too weak of a player against the run, Carpenter is a speedy linebacker who is much better in pass coverage than run stopping. The Patriots want faster players who can effectively cover running backs, and Carpenter is just that kind of a linebacker. He fits perfectly in this role and has finally found his place on an NFL squad, but the problem is that his skill-set is very specific to that role; you don’t want him regularly playing on first and second downs where his weaknesses stopping the run can be exposed. As an SLB, however, he gets to do more work in coverage against tight ends as well, so that is a plus.

Now, to gush about Brandon Spikes. Coming out of Florida, he was a standout linebacker for one of the best teams in college football. He didn’t disappoint as a rookie and immediately earned a reputation for being a fantastic inside linebacker who is always around the ball. Spikes is clearly one of the most physical LBs in the NFL, and his work stopping the run attests to that. While he isn’t good in coverage, his run defense is so great that it doesn’t really matter.

So the current scenario shows the problems associated with an injury to Brandon Spikes, even if it’s only for a game or two. Carpenter is forced to start instead of being in a sub-package role that is perfect for him, leading to the New England Patriots run-stopping ability to be much worse off.

Spikes’s health is extremely crucial, and the Patriots should rest him up as much as possible before the regular season. He needs to get time in the preseason to shake off the rust, but health is paramount at this point. Starting Carpenter on the strong-side and Hightower in the middle is fine in the preseason, but the run defense will suffer big time without Spikes in the regular season. There is not much to be concerned about now, but it highlights the added importance of Spikes and his health with the loss of Fletcher for, likely, the season. And that’s not even including how immensely talented Brandon Spikes is as a run stopper, as a catalyst for this defense, as an energizing young athlete, and as a physically gifted linebacker.

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Tags: Bobby Carpenter Brandon Spikes Dane Fletcher Dont'a Hightower Florida

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