Oct 21, 2012; Foxboro, MA, USA; New York Jets player Dustin Keller (81) is tackled by the New England Patriots player Brandon Spikes (55) after a reception in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots Midseason Forum, Part 4: Linebackers


Well, that’s no ordinary rabbit!  That’s the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!  Look, that rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide!  It’s a killer!”

Looking metaphorically at Tim the Enchanter’s spiel in the Monty Python film, The Holy Grail, it is clear that he knows that when it comes to evaluating an opponent, things may not always be as they seem.

So if the teams remaining on the New England Patriots’ schedule look at their defense in the same light that King Arthur initially viewed the fierce Rabbit of Caerbannog,  they’re likely to end up running away in horror – Run away! Run away!- particularly if they see Brandon Spikes coming at them full-speed.

Spikes is the man in the middle of New England’s trio of young linebackers, his menacing looking facemask and darkened visor resembling the head gear of the knights of the Round Table – at least those in the 1975 comedy classic…

“He’s got huge, sharp– eh– he can leap about– look at the bones!”

Violent and sudden, the 2012 New England Patriots linebacking corps feature the versatility that their 4-3 scheme calls for, as well as football intelligence and -yes – a vicious streak a mile wide.  In fact this season’s version of second level beasts may be the best group, collectively, ever assembled in Foxborough…

…and while purists may disagree, there is a substantial argument that starters Jerod Mayo, Spikes and rookie Dont’a Hightower form the most physically imposing lineup in the Patriots’ 51 year history – throw in hybrids like Rob Ninkovich, and it makes this claim a certainty.  And just the fact that they are so young as a collective group means that they should be patrolling the field as Patriots for years to come.

How imposing are they?  Weakside ‘backer Jerod Mayo is a 250 pound former Defensive Rookie of the Year, whose tackling prowess keeps him at the top of that stat annually.  He is decent in coverage which makes him a 3-down player.  On the strong side is a literal athletic freak in cleats, rookie Dont’a Hightower, who was a  6′ 4″, 280 pound blitzing machine last year at Alabama.  Hightower has had a bit of trouble staying healthy but is now back and should benefit more than most from the bye week.

And that brings us back to Brandon Spikes – a phenomenal downhill thumper that sets the emotional tone for the defense, if not the entire team.  The man with the exploding hair (read here) is as athletic as he is violent, displaying an array of moves to shoot gaps and drives through ball carriers with force, causing fumbles and boo boos.  In his third year, he has stayed healthy – something that he hasn’t done in his previous two seasons.

If injuries do occur during the second half, coach Bill Belichick and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia have versatile backups to draw from.  As of this writing, Bobby Carpenter has been released again, but 10 year veteran Tracy White brings solid technique, as does 10th year man and local product Niko Koutouvides.  Third year load Jeff Tarpanian brings youthful enthusiasm when he sees the field, mostly on special teams along with Koutouvides.

If King Arthur would have had these linebackers as his knights in his quest for the Holy Grail, he probably wouldn’t have needed the Holy Hand Grenade to defeat the killer rabbit at the Cave of Caerbannog – he could have just set the edge with Hightower or Ninkovich on one side, Mayo on the other with Spikes bearing down on him up the middle.

So perhaps it would be wise for the teams remaining on the Patriots’ schedule to heed the warnings, lest they end up being mocked by their fans and the media much like Tim the Enchanter did to Arthur and his silly English “Knnniggits”…

“I warned you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn’t you?  Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it?  Well, it’s always the same. I always tell them–”

 

You can follow Michael on twitter @FoxboroForum

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