Brandon Spikes absence from Patriots OTA practice this week was one of the more notable aspects of a shorts-and-helmets workout that took place with players not wearing jersey numbers.
Spikes was one of four players from the New England 90-man roster not on the field for the workout on Tuesday. The others were Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon Bolden. Gronkowski and Edelman are dealing with previously reported medical issues, and reports this week indicate that Bolden is dealing with an ankle issue.
That leaves Spikes as the only player without a specific known reason for not being at OTA workouts.
Spikes is heading into his fourth NFL season, and the final year of the rookie contract he signed as a second-round pick out of Florida in 2010. He's been a controversial and productive player in his three-plus seasons in New England. He's dealt injuries, social media controversies and a league suspension while serving as an impact player and emotional force when on the field making plays.
Spikes – who was sort of the Tim Tebow of the defense in his college days with the Gators – has always professed his love of the game of football. He's said he simply wants to be on the field playing the game he loves, and ideally going down as a great linebacker.
But earlier this week ESPNBoston.com reported that Spikes "hasn't been seen much at Gillette Stadium since the offseason program began in mid-April" as he enters are year that could be a chance for him to "improve his stock and land what he hopes is a big payday."
That continued as Spikes remains away from what are technically voluntary OTA workouts, although nearly every other member of the New England roster was on the field in some capacity this week.
So that begs the question, why would Spikes choose to stay away? Is there any relation to his contract? Is he simply of the belief that he can better prepare himself for a healthy, productive season working out elsewhere at this time of year?
Those thoughts – which led to a pretty interesting discussion of Spikes on yesterday's PFW in Progress radio show here on Patriots.com – were bouncing around my oversized head when I happened upon a story this morning dealing with former first-round pick Gabe Carimi, who's been staying away from Bears OTAs. Carimi has been a huge disappointment in Chicago, failing to win a job at either tackle spot, and his career in on the line in the Windy City.
Even with those circumstances, Carimi has chosen to spend the offseason working with former NFL offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley, rather than with the team that controls his immediate professional future.
Bentley told the Chicago Tribune (and picked up by ESPN.com's Rumor Central) that Carimi is simply putting all the pressure on himself at this important point in his career.
"Any time a player opts to make an investment in himself that is outside the scope of what the team expects, that's a gamble," Bentley told the* Tribune*. "That's sometimes a risk that players have to be willing to take. Sometimes, when guys are in a situation like Gabe, maybe the player feels comfortable betting on himself.
"Now, where it gets a little sketchy, you can't go back and be OK. You can't go back and be good. You've got to go back and be damn good. That's where the pressure falls back onto the player and, to be quite frank, that is where it belongs. Let these guys stand up and man up for themselves. These are their careers. If Gabe Carimi is going to be labeled as a bust, let this man do it on his own terms."
Could Spikes be taking a similar approach of betting on himself as he heads toward a season he apparently hopes catapults him toward a big-money free agent contract?
Spikes started 14 of the 15 games he played in last season, the most action of his three-year career. He was second on the New England defense with a career-high 128 tackles while adding his first career sack. He also tied for sixth in the NFL with five forced fumbles.
That's a pretty good season playing in the shadow of Patriots Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo. But maybe Spikes is looking for even more heading toward free agency and believes he can accomplish that on his own more than working with his coaches and the New England strength and conditioning staff.
In what could be a totally unrelated note, Spikes stopped using Twitter this past February after what had been a long, strange, active history on the social media site.
His last Tweet, on February 28?
From a Patriots team perspective, if Spikes' absence from OTA work is any indication of potential absences for No. 55 when workouts become mandatory in nature, it would leave a large hole at linebacker. Spikes is clearly penciled in as the starter in the middle of Bill Belichick's 4-3, where he's been more often than not when healthy for the last three years. If he's not available for any reason this summer and fall, there's not really a proven backup option other than moving Mayo back to the middle. Or Dont'a Hightower could move inside. Or rookie Steve Beauharnais might get the reps.
Regardless, with Spikes around the Patriots have a very good trio of starting linebackers that allows others on the depth chart – Dane Fletcher, Beauharnais – to fill backup roles. If Spikes isn't around, the depth of the position takes a big hit in terms of bodies, production and attitude.
All we know right now is that Spikes isn't working out with his teammates in Foxborough. We don't know why, although Bentley's comments on the situation with Carimi is Chicago could give us a perspective on what the reasoning might be.
Are you worried about Spikes' absence? Why do you think he's not at OTAs? Let us know with a comment below!