Ask any NFL rookie what the biggest difference or surprise is when they arrive in the pros, and invariably you'll get this response.
"The speed of the game. It's so much faster at this level."
So, it was a bit stunning to hear Brandon Spikessay he hasn't noticed a difference.
"Nah, I haven't," he said, shaking his head emphatically back and forth. "Not at all. Not at all."
Ironic, too, because speed was the biggest concern surrounding the rookie inside linebacker during the pre-draft process. Coming out of the speed factory that is the Southeast Conference, Spikes ran a comparatively pedestrian 40-yard dash, which may have turned some teams off.
Even more ironic was the fact that Spikes was known as a playmaker at the University of Florida, for whom he returned several interceptions for touchdowns during his Gator career.
"Like I've said before," Spikes continued, "the 40 is just the ability to run in a straight line. You have to play football – it's about angles and instinct. I'm just being myself, reading things, and I try to get to the ball.
"It's been like a big learning process, but I think I'm coming along pretty smooth so far. Every day is a step I need to take to get better and help the team."
So far, at least, speed hasn't been an issue on the field for Spikes. In fact, the speed with which he has earned his way into the starting lineup for the Patriots has been impressive – even if his performance to date hasn't been as dramatic.
Through three regular season games, Spikes has registered 14 tackles (half of them solo) and a pass defensed. At 6-2, 250, the rookie has often found himself matched up against tight ends, with mixed results.
"Sometimes it's a pass-run conflict," he explained. "You have to read the run, then if it's a pass, you have to get back. You know, I have help over the top, but my job is kind of to stay with the tight end. I know in the Jets game, I kind of lost him a few times, but like I said, I'm still learning, I've got to take steps."
So, if speed hasn't been the issue for Spikes, what, thus far, has been his most formidable challenge?
"Probably, I'd have to say, the different playbooks, the different offenses that we face each week. We have to scheme against them, the game plan changes, and you have to be up to speed with that and keep up.
"It's been kind of difficult," Spikes conceded, "but how much work we put into it, it's getting easier. That's the biggest difference."
In his first comments to reporters since his highly-publicized off-the-field incident came to light, Spikes acknowledged the compromising videotape of him and a consenting woman, but didn't offer much more than what his agent issued in a statement a few weeks ago.
"Well, I definitely was embarrassed," Spikes said, "but we already addressed that issue, so, I'm just trying to move on."
McCourty holds court
Another rookie, cornerback Devin McCourty, spent a few minutes with reporters Thursday, too. Questions mostly focused on his expected matchup with Dolphins go-to receiver Brandon Marshall.
"I just embrace it," he said. "Just going out there and playing, whoever lines up on your side, you've got to treat the same way – just go out and challenge them.
"Each week, the focus of the defense is tackling, especially with a guy like him, when he gets the ball in his hands, he's trying to make a big play. So, we have to make sure we come and wrap him up. Once he gets the ball in his hands, the play's not done."
With the defense taking significant heat from both media and fans, McCourty was asked if he and his teammates take such criticisms personally.
"I mean, it's out there," he acknowledged, "but …we try not to look at the media and all that stuff … Each week you got to get better. As a defense, we look at what we do wrong, and we worry about ourselves."
Thu 9/30 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Thursday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.