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Patriots notebook

Spikes expects to be ready

Injury rehab slowed linebacker’s return

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 3, 2011

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MANSFIELD - When the Patriots gathered to watch film this preseason, linebacker Brandon Spikes felt a sense of disappointment. While his teammates were getting critiqued or praised for their performances, Spikes could only watch and listen.

Spikes, rehabbing an ankle injury, was unable to play in any of the exhibition games. But the second-year linebacker returned to practice this week and expects to be ready for the season opener against the Dolphins Sept. 12.

“It just felt good getting out there running around and being around the guys,’’ Spikes said yesterday. “I know a lot of guys come in and they’re excited about practice and excited to watch film and I look at the film and I’m not on there. So it’s kind of depressing but I think I took the steps I needed in order to be ready.’’

With the Patriots taking the day off from practice, Spikes used his free time to sign autographs at a Reebok event. Fan interaction is something Spikes enjoys. Though he wasn’t on the field, he was very active with his Twitter account (@bspikes55).

“I think Twitter is kind of fun for the outside world to see how we are personally,’’ Spikes said. “I just kind of say what’s on my mind. Some stuff, you can’t look into it . . . I kind of like interacting with the fans, and I think they get a kick out of it, too.’’

Spikes said he is ready to return to game action. Last season, he collected 61 tackles and had one interception in 12 games. His rookie season was cut short by a four-game suspension, for violating the NFL’s banned substance policy. The substance was found in his medication to treat attention deficit disorder.

Spikes, a second-round pick in 2010, believes he has something to prove this year.

“I think last year, I did go through a lot of adversity and I feel like I played decent with all that going on,’’ he said. “This year I just want to stay on a straight road and straight path and just play football and focus on football. We’ve got a great defense and a lot of great guys around and I just want to come out, get the job done, and be accountable.’’

Swing shift Rookie Nate Solder took a few snaps at right tackle in Thursday’s game against the Giants.

When the Patriots drafted Solder in the first round, coach Bill Belichick said Solder would be strictly a left tackle. But he’s had to expand his responsibilities.

“Well, if he’s our third tackle, our swing tackle with [Matt] Light and [Sebastian] Vollmer, then that’s what he’s going to have to do,’’ Belichick said. “I thought he did some good things. I thought his run blocking was good. I thought his pass blocking was good. He had a couple plays that, like everybody, could have been a little better. But the kid’s learned a lot.

“I think he’s had a lot thrown at him in the last month. I think overall he’s handled it very well, very maturely. His techniques improved. He’s worked hard. He’s a tough kid. This is part of the experience, playing on the other side and then actually coming back to the left side in the second half. He got good work on both sides of the ball. I think all those snaps in the long run are just going to help.’’

Vereen on scene Rookie running back Shane Vereen made his debut Thursday, rushing for 34 yards on 11 carries. Vereen, who has been out with a hamstring injury, was eager to get acclimated to the NFL.

“I had a good time. I think we could have gotten some more production out of the second group but it felt fine to be out there,’’ said Vereen, drafted in the second round. “The main thing I wanted to do is be there for my team and help them out in any way possible.’’

First in line Second-year tight end Aaron Hernandez led the NFL during the preseason with 16 receptions, for 178 yards and one touchdown . . . Kicker Stephen Gostkowski seems to be back to his old self after having surgery to repair a torn quadriceps. He was 5 of 5 on field goals in exhibition play, with three of at least 40 yards . . . According to a league source, former Cowboys center Andre Gurode will visit Foxborough today. Gurode, a five-time Pro Bowler, was released by Dallas Monday . . . The Patriots finished the preseason 2-2 for the fifth time in seven years.

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.

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