Inside jobs up for grabs


The guy on the left of the affixed picture (Gary Guyton) is down with a hamstring issue, which means more opportunity tonight for guys like the one on the right there.

Our ace intern Robert Mays wrote on that guy — Brandon Spikes — in this morning’s paper, and Spikes will be front-and-center again tonight as the Patriots take on the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. In fact, that whole position is worth watching.

All we really know at this point is that Jerod Mayo will be starting at one of the two inside linebacker spots, likely on the weak-side. It’s a good bet that Guyton and Spikes will have serious roles in the defense, and how Spikes is evaluated at the end of the preseason will likely determine that.

Spikes projects to be a solid run-down player right out of the box as a rookie. The real question is whether he can cover well enough to a) handle tight ends and backs in the play-action passing game or b) stay on the field on passing downs.

It seems likely that Spikes would be the early-down and short yardage SILB, with Guyton coming in to play in nickel and dime looks. But if Spikes shows he can cover, which we haven’t really seen yet (his instincts and burst make up for lack of speed in a lot of spots), then it would open the door for more flexibility and rotating, and could even work to preserve Mayo a bit.

And beyond just those guys, Tyrone McKenzie will be under a different kind of spotlight against Atlanta, since he seems to be fighting for his job with Dane Fletcher and special teams-type Eric Alexander. You have to wonder if McKenzie will have to shoehorn his way into contributing more in the kicking game to make it.

All things to keep tabs on as you tune in to the game tonight.

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