Spikes Pointing Down?

For some NFL teams, a stellar Pro Day performance by a coveted draft prospect can be all a scout needs to justify the fascination he has with the player.

Bring back reports of a sizzling 40-yard dash and some gaudy numbers of reps on the bench press, and suddenly a "who's he?" player can shoot up a team's draft board.

In the case of this year's Dallas Cowboys, a poor performance might have reached the exact same goal.

At Florida's Pro Day Wednesday in Gainesville, LB Brandon Spikes ran a pair of 40-yard dashes, finishing each between 5.0 and 5.1 seconds.

DeMarcus Ware, he ain't.

The Gators' Pro Day was packed — the field was crawling with NFL scouts and coaches and executives, media lurked everywhere, and enough fans showed up that UF actually opened concession stands. (Think about that — concession stands to watch guys run sprints?)

Spikes is considered one of the top two or three inside linebackers in the country, and some projected him to go in the middle or end of the first round of next month's draft.

But when he couldn't crack five seconds in the 40, eyebrows were raised. Analysts immediately began re-thinking their mock drafts. Spikes began to slip.

What's hard to figure is why Spikes' 40 times shocked anyone. He never was thought of as a speed guy. Coaches (Florida's and the Gators' opponents' coaches) often referred to him as more quick than fast — he won't chase down skill position players from behind, but he can shoot a gap in a heartbeat and blow up a ball carrier.

Spikes measured in at the NFL Combine at 6-foot-3, 249 chiseled pounds. He never was going to be one of those lean speedsters coming off the edge on blitzes. Instead, he's a powerful, explosive load who can plug the middle of a defense, fighting off blockers and blasting ball carriers. He's a violent hitter who will make the highlight reels when he gets through the line of scrimmage to hit a quarterback, but that's not the strength of his game.

Most acknowledge that the Cowboys' primary needs are a backup (and potential future starter) at offensive tackle, and depending on how free agency pans out, maybe another wide receiver and/or safety. But there has been a lot of talk recently that the Cowboys would like to find another inside linebacker, someone who can learn under — and presumably replace in a few years — veteran Keith Brooking.

If Spikes' times in the 40 turns off enough teams that he falls down to the end of the second round, he could be a steal for Dallas. He's not a track star, but he never was, and people who thought he was going to suddenly shave two or three tenths of a second off his 40 time at Pro Day were fooling themselves.

But he remains a very good football player. He's strong, explosive, a powerful run stuffer and plays with a mean streak. That hasn't changed. If he can be had in the second round, some team — whether it's the Cowboys or another team — will have a fine football player who could occupy the middle of a defense for a decade.

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