Positional review: Linebacker

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
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We take a look at the linebackers as the next position in our 2012 review.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Starters -- Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower; Depth-level players -- Tracy White, Mike Rivera, Niko Koutovides

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Spikes continued to be very strong at stopping the run, but could improve on pass coverage.
Key Statistics: Mayo: 147 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 95.9 percent of snaps played; Spikes: 92 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 66.2 percent of snaps played; Hightower: 60 tackles, 4 sacks, 51.1 percent of snaps played.

Overview: The All-SEC trio of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower teamed up for a number of big plays during the 2012 season and carries promise into the future. Mayo was Mr. Everything in the linebacking corps, playing a leading role as both a run stuffer and pass defender. He is the leader of the group and a coach on the field for Bill Belichick’s defense. Spikes continued his effective ways against the run in 2012, playing downhill and being a tone setter on defense. He was used frequently in the team’s sub package, but has coverage limitations against the pass, similar to Hightower. Hightower showed very good playing strength as a rookie and the ability to set the edge as an end-of-the-line player. He too saw some time in the sub package, but has room to grow as a pass defender. The Patriots relied most heavily on these three, but the position has a comparable feel to the defensive tackle spot; a player who can contribute on passing downs is needed. In today’s NFL, when many teams rely on pass-happy attacks, those linebackers are growing in terms of value.

2013 Personnel Preview: White, Koutovides and Dane Fletcher (who spent the season on injured reserve) are all free agents, while Jeff Tarpinian was signed to a reserve/future deal off the practice squad. White, Koutovides and Fletcher all bring core special teams value, while Fletcher could be an option to bolster the sub package defense.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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