He was sensational the last three years in San Francisco, where he worked under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Manuksy is now in San Diego and was eager to bring Spikes along for the ride.
In addition to shoring up a run defense that was manhandled at times last season, Spikes will also be asked to mentor youngsters Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton.
For more on Spikes, we check in with Craig Massei, publisher of NinersDigest.com.
You'd think that after 1,519 career tackles and 13 seasons of NFL wear and tear, Takeo Spikes would be slowing down at age 34. But that certainly wasn't the case last season with the 49ers – or in any of Spikes' three seasons in San Francisco.
Instead of displaying gradual decline as many veterans do at that stage of their career, Spikes got better every season as one of the ringleaders in San Francisco's 3-4 defensive scheme, where the cagy veteran developed a strong rapport with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who in turn built a lot of confidence and trust in Spikes. The mutuality of that working relationship should continue now that both are reunited in San Diego. Just the fact alone that the Chargers are signing Spikes tells you what Manusky thinks of him, and what Manusky thinks Spikes can add to the NFL's reigning No. 1 defense. If nothing else, Spikes will be an asset thanks to his maturity, experience, strong leadership qualities and the fact he probably has seen and done more in the NFL than any other San Diego defender.
But there is something else: Spikes can still play. After drafting a top prospect in the third round last year, the 49ers were hoping to phase out Spikes in favor of rookie NaVorro Bowman early in the season. But Spikes was having none of it. He shrugged off the challenge from the younger, more athletic rookie and went on to have his best season with the 49ers, which featured 125 tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Spikes has the size to take on blockers and his aggressive qualities make him effective in heavy traffic. He is a sure tackler, and he obviously has benefitted the last three years from playing next to All-Pro Patrick Willis, who always gets double-teamed, leaving Spikes in many one-on-one battles, which he can win.
The downside of Spikes' aggressiveness in taking on blockers is that he has trouble shedding them once engaged. He also doesn't have great lateral speed. He has benefitted from a San Francisco system that keeps him near the middle of the trenches.
That said, he has played surprisingly well in coverage, recording six interceptions in his three San Francisco seasons. The 49ers gave Bowman an opportunity on third downs early last season, but that experiment ended when Spikes proved that he still could be reliable in coverage and perform as a three-down linebacker.
Whether he can be a three-down linebacker for what the Chargers expect from him is open to question. But know this: San Diego is getting a quality individual who knows the game and has performed at the highest level of it for much of his career. He'll be a leader the moment he steps into that locker room – he was San Francisco's player representative – and the Chargers will be glad they stole him from the 49ers, who wanted him back, despite what Spikes may say about the team's lukewarm interest in his return.
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