|Healthy Spikes could solidify Philly's defense|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 09 August 2007 09:25|
Anything to gain an edge.
If it'll help Spikes regain the form that earned him a reputation as one of the top playmaking linebackers in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles will be glad to provide any tools he needs for studying.
Before every game, Spikes looks up whether a player he's facing committed any penalties in previous weeks. If so, he'll casually mention it when the two are on the field. He might do it after a sack or a big tackle for a loss. Or maybe after he gets blown off a play with a solid block.
``It's going for what they least expect,'' Spikes said. ``Not a lot of guys take the time to do the research.''
Perhaps he should consider reading the bio portion of media guides. He might find even more noteworthy - and sometimes embarrassing - information in there.
Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was the most significant offseason addition for the Eagles. A soft defense cost Philadelphia a chance to play in the NFC championship game last year. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's once-formidable crew gave up 435 total yards, couldn't make key stops and had a few costly penalties in a 27-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in a second-round playoff game.
Acquired from Buffalo in a trade in March, the 30-year-old Spikes is a major upgrade at the weakside spot. Matt McCoy started 10 games there last season before giving way to rookie Omar Gaither. Having Spikes allows Johnson to move Gaither into the middle, where he'll probably spell veteran Jeremiah Trotter at least in passing situations.
``He's a real pro,'' Johnson said of Spikes. ``He studies the game. He's got great leadership. You can tell he's a playmaker.''
A healthy Spikes should bolster a run defense that struggled mightily last season. And he's someone capable of making big plays at a position that produced few last year for the Eagles. The linebackers combined for zero fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 3 1/2 sacks, including two by McCoy in a meaningless regular-season finale. Spikes has 14 fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions, 21 1/2 sacks and four touchdowns in his career.
``Everywhere he went, he did nothing but make big plays,'' Trotter said. ``It feels good having a guy like that beside you. It makes Jim's job easier. He can be more creative. Now you've got a guy you can send off the edge, get some one-on-one matchups with running backs or fullbacks, and win those battles. This guy is a beast, flat-out.''
Selected by Cincinnati with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1998 draft, Spikes spent five years with the Bengals. He joined Buffalo in 2003 as a free agent and had two straight outstanding seasons.
Spikes had 144 tackles in '03 and 111 tackles with five interceptions in '04, making the Pro Bowl both years. He missed the final 13 games the following season after tearing his right Achilles' tendon in Week 3. Last year, he sat out four games with a strained hamstring and was slowed by the Achilles' injury the whole season.
``I still didn't have the strength,'' he said about his leg. ``I really felt like I was where I wanted to be probably about a month before I came to minicamp here.''
The Eagles are counting on Spikes to be his old self. They don't usually spend a lot of money on players in their 30s, but figured Spikes is worth the risk. He's scheduled to make $9.5 million ($4.5 million this season) over the final two years of a six-year contract.
Safety Brian Dawkins is eager to play with a guy nicknamed ``TKO.''
``He's going to stuff things up,'' Dawkins said. ``When you have guys like that that can take care of their responsibilities and do it the way he does it, he steps up everything. That makes everybody else's job that much easier. It makes my job a lot easier, and I probably won't have as many tackles this year as I did last year, because he's going to be doing most of it in front of us.''
Spikes isn't concerned about his stats or his next contract. After missing the playoffs each of his first nine seasons in the league, he can't wait to play for a team with a legitimate shot at going to the Super Bowl.
He's also very excited about playing in Johnson's aggressive system. It's an attacking style with complex nuances designed to confuse quarterbacks. This caters to Spikes' strengths.
``A lot of guys would give a pinky finger just to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs. This is my first time,'' he said.
On the field, Spikes is a fierce competitor and ferocious hitter. He's quite the opposite away from it. A soft-spoken and intelligent leader, Spikes was appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to a six-member council of veteran players to advise him on a variety of issues, including player conduct.
``It's a tremendous honor and I take it seriously,'' Spikes said.
And you know he will do his homework.