Spikes fell to New England at No. 62 in last month's NFL draft, a byproduct of a slow 40 time in pre-draft workouts. The former Florida middle linebacker was clocked between 4.95-5.09 seconds, an alarmingly slow rate for a player who was so incredibly successful on the field in college — you know, during actual games.
"It is what it is, but it ain't what it seems," Spikes said Friday, channeling his inner Bill Belichick.
Eventually, Spikes will prove one of two things: either he'll be too slow to make an impact against faster NFL players, or he'll show that combine drills were quite literally a waste of time. Judging by his on-field performance for four years against competition in the most athletic conference in the country, early speculation would lean toward the latter.
"Testing is certainly one way to evaluate a player, but football is a game of 22 guys out there on the field all moving at the same time," Belichick said. "It’s not a track meet. It’s not a jumping contest. Those are measures of athletic ability, and we use them just like everybody else does. But ultimately, it comes down to players playing the game.
"We all see plenty of athletes down there that aren’t at the top of the testing level that are tough football players and vice-versa. We see guys that are great testers that don’t end up with a great football career. I don’t think those two necessarily coordinate. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I think it’s important that he has a lot of confidence in himself, which he should because he’s a good football player."
If the Patriots did indeed get a steal, they've got to be overjoyed with the prospect of pairing him on the inside with Jerod Mayo for the next several years. They'll anchor an exciting young linebacking corps that also includes Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie, Jermaine Cunningham and Tully Banta-Cain.
Mayo and Spikes, who each dominated in the SEC, are instinctive, playmaking forces who can lock down the middle of the Patriots' defense. They're both smart players who have the leadership qualities necessary to take control at that position, and Spikes is thrilled with the opportunity to learn from a guy he admired in college.
"The sky is the limit," Spikes said. "[Mayo] is a great player. We all know that. With him, I just want to get under his wings, let him teach me the ropes. I know he’s had a lot of success here so far."
Spikes wore No. 51 at Florida, but that number is occupied in New England by Mayo. So the former Gator will wear No. 55, which has been worn by a number of legendary linebackers.
"With the 55, there’s a lot of great tradition," Spikes said. "A lot of great linebackers wore it. I just want to keep that tradition going and follow after those guys and keep that legacy going."
It was most recently worn in New England by Junior Seau, who coincidentally met Spikes last October and gave the young star some advice. Seau was working as a sideline reporter during the Florida-Georgia rivalry game on Halloween, filming an episode of his Versus reality series, Sports Jobs With Junior Seau. Spikes revealed he was relieved that Seau didn’t see the infamous eye-gouging incident during the game.
"[The conversation with Seau] was about leading the team, being the middle linebacker, being a force in the middle," Spikes said. "Guys look to me for energy and passion, and that’s part of my game. It’s part of my natural ability.
"I had no clue, though, that I would be in his number. What a coincidence."
Cunningham, who was Spikes' teammate at Florida, glowed about the middle linebacker's leadership ability, calling Spikes the Tim Tebow of the Gators' defense. Spikes definitely displayed those qualities during the Patriots' weekend rookie camp, taking charge of some drills, collecting his new teammates and engaging with the media for 10-15 minutes.
He'll be a good fit, no doubt, and a leader over time. When the veterans join the rookies in camp in a couple of weeks, though, Spikes just wants to fit in as quickly as possible.
"Right now, as a rookie, I just want to come in and gain the respect of the coaching staff and my teammates," Spikes said. "Let them know I’m here to contribute. I’m an accountable guy, and I’m going to be here when my number is called. I’m going to get in it, do what I can do and do it at a high level. I just want the guys to know I’m accountable, and they can depend on me, rookie or not."
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