It has been so many seasons now, I sometimes forget how much I loved the 'old' Patriots... the gritty, hard nosed, blue collar team of the early 00s, the team that relentlessly ground its opponents into dust and physically beat up the best teams in football.
I loved watching that Defense go to work, watching Offenses flail away futilely, whether it was Manning's Colts or Martz's Rams, or when it was a slugfest between two like minded teams, such as when the Ravens and Patriots went smashmouth football in a mudbowl back when Gillette still had natural grass.
I remember how clearly I saw the changes coming, when they traded for Moss and signed Stallworth. A part of me dreaded what I watched in the draft and FA moves in '06 and '07, the Defense was all but ignored in favor of building up a glitzy, point-a-minute Offense.
Soon the shut-down Corner was gone, soon the Linebacker corps every NFL team had learned to respect, if not fear, was nothing but a memory, and the D-line was a shadow of its former self.
I forgot what it was like to watch a hard nosed group ride guile, balance, guts and toughness all the way to three Super Bowl victories in four years.
Spikes is such a player, personality wise, he falls somewhere between a Brian Cox and Dick Butkus, though perhaps not as skilled as either... still, Spikes started 14 games last season, the most of his three year career with the Patriots. He was second on the D with a career-high 129 tackles while forcing five fumbles
Certianly Dane Fletcher is in the mix at the position, but I think we all like him as a sub and change of pace option, rather than the every game starter going into the season.
Instead of Spikes' absence from OTAs being a sign of troubles ahead, I'd like to think that this fiery player is focused on preparing himself for the upcoming season like he has never prepared for a football season before.
Spikes' attitude and on-field aggression is contagious, even veteran players like Mayo respond to it, play with more intensity because of it. The Defense needs more of that type of spark, not less.
I read that Spikes stopped using Twitter this past February, something he has used to his own detriment at times, for years now.
His last tweet was on February 28, and it stated simply enough:
At the end of the day, the Patriots have all the speed, size, athleticism, players that they need... what they are missing on that Defense is that tenacity, that determination, that devotion and unity that comes with a group of players committed to one another, and to beating down whoever comes their way, until they give way.
No one on the Defense embodies that mentality more than Spikes.
That is really what football is all about, and that is why despite all the great fantasy football stats, and record breaking performances the Offense has put up the last half dozen years, they have no Lombardi Trophy to show for all their efforts.
High powered Offenses, even the greatest of all time, do not win championships. The team that knows how to shut down such Offenses, does.