New England Patriots Links 7/24/12 - LBs Carpenter, Cunningham, Spikes Have Something to Prove

Brandon Spikes carrying the ball is always a good sign.

Tom E. Curran examines the Linebacker position at the start of Camp.

This is becoming a deep and strong group. Mayo is the leader and he's coming off a 2011 season that saw him injured and backsliding some from the All-Pro status he earned in 2010 when he led the NFL in tackles. The light seemed to go on for Spikes at the end of 2011 but he still needs to show he's got full buy-in to the program. Hightower, the rookie first-rounder, will challenge Spikes for time next to Mayo but Hightower also has versatility he showed at Alabama that may make him an interesting weapon. Dane Fletcher is undersized to be an every-down backer but he's got promise as a coverage linebacker which is what Guyton was before he suddenly got stiff and slow. Carpenter has been trying to fulfill his potential as a former first-rounder and he may find a fit with New England. Tarpinian is an interesting young player who needed to bulk up, but he can hit and he gets to the ball. White and Koutouvides are almost entirely special teams guys. Cunningham has been a second-round bust to date. Mike Rivera figures to be a long shot to make the roster.

Andy Hart rates the linebackers on the roster.

Bobby Carpenter (7th year) – There is no question that Carpenter was a bust as a first-round pick of the Cowboys. He’s bounced around since. But he got a lot of reps this spring, and still has the versatility that made him an intriguing prospect coming out of Ohio State. He could probably play any of the three spots in the 4-3, but looked like he got a lot of run in the middle of sub schemes in OTAs and mini-camp. As veteran backup and special teams option, Carpenter may just have a nice role in 2012 in New England. Rating: BUY

Jermaine Cunningham (3rd year) – Cunningham played a lot with little to show for it as a rookie. Last year, with the team adding Mark Anderson and Andre Carter while moving to 4-3 fronts, Cunningham was a forgotten man. He didn’t really play and then landed on IR. Cunningham has really shown nothing to this point in his New England career and time could be running out for him to prove himself. Not a good sign that he was limited this spring, even if Belichick did throw some strong praise his way during a mini-camp press conference. Rating: SELL

Brandon Spikes (3rd year) – Spikes is an impact player when he’s on the field. He just can’t stay on the field. He brings an infectious energy and instinctive playmaking ability to the game. But even this spring Spikes was rehabbing from surgery. That said, I think he stays on the field for the bulk of 2012 and has a breakout season in the middle of the defense. Rating: BUY

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