FOXBORO, Mass. — When the New England Patriots face the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night, they will be without one of their biggest vocal leaders.
When linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on injured reserve, the Patriots didn’t only lose a tremendous run defender, they also lost some of their “fire” in the huddle. Spikes is the guy who can charge through the offensive line and blow up a play three yards into the backfield. He’s the guy who flies around the field, overpursuit be damned.
“Intimidation, fire,” fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower said about what Spikes brings to the team. “He just brings that spark to the defense that a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t see it, what goes on out there on the field, definitely that spark. Whenever we need a big play, usually everyone looks to him for that big play. Or if somebody needs to say something it’s usually Spikes. It’s not a captain, it’s not a 15-year vet, it’s usually him. Everybody else is going to have to step up and I think we’ll be fine.”
Hightower repeated that last phrase four times during his five-minute meeting with reporters, perhaps talking himself into the idea. It helps that New England came out of training camp with impressive depth at linebacker. They were built to lose a couple linebackers along the way, just as they have with Jerod Mayo and Spikes.
“I guess we’re kinda thinning out slowly but surely,” Hightower said. “Man, we’ll be fine. We still got a lot of confidence in who’s in there. We’ve got a lot of young guys who learn pretty well. I think we’ll be fine.”
The “next man up” in this case is both rookie linebacker Jamie Collins and fourth-year veteran Dane Fletcher. Collins has already been playing in the base 4-3 defense and in nickel, while Fletcher has carved out a role in dime and third and long. So, both players are used to being on the field, they’ll just need to be out there more frequently.
Everybody just has to step up,” Fletcher said. “Everybody’s role kinda increases on defense, especially in the linebacker room.”
Collins and Fletcher are different types of players than Spikes. Spikes is a slower, more powerful player who excels against the run, while Collins and Fletcher are better known for their speed and pass-coverage abilities. Collins is ready to do anything that is asked of him, however.
“I feel like it’s going to be the same. Just here doing a job that I’ve been doing,” Collins said. “Just tying to stick with the same thing, the same routine. Doing my job, whatever the role is, I’m just going to continue to do it.”
Hightower has been impressed with Collins. The rookie suited up for all 16 games this season and made 43 tackles.
“He does everything we need him to do,” Hightower said. “He’s a smart dude. He’s very athletic. He uses that to his best. I feel like we’re gonna be fine.”
At this point, the Patriots are used to losing key players, whether it’s to a season-ending injury or something that lingers from week to week. That “next man up” mentality helps when it comes to losing a starter right before the playoffs.
“It is what it is,” Hightower said. “Since the first injury, another man up. There’s no point in crying about it, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Just gotta get ready with who we got left.”
For now, that’s him, Collins and Fletcher. And the other eight players on defense will have to step up around them.