FOXBOROUGH — When linebacker Brandon Spikes is in the middle of the field for the Patriots, his reputation as a thumper grows.
But over his first two seasons in New England, staying on the field has been the major issue for the 2010 second-round draft pick.
As a rookie, he was suspended for the final four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs (although Spikes said it was a medication on which he didn’t get clarification that triggered the positive test result), and then last year he missed seven games in the second half of the season with a knee injury.
He did return in time for the postseason, and started the AFC Championship game and the Super Bowl.
But Spikes needed to get the knee cleaned up once the season ended, causing him to miss all of the Patriots’ on-field work in the spring.
After a few days of mostly watching from the sidelines over the opening practices of training camp, the Florida product took part in full-team workout for the first time Tuesday, and jumped right in where he left off, working with the top defensive unit.
During coach Bill Belichick’s news conference Tuesday, just before he headed out to the fields for the start of the day’s session, he was asked about Spikes’s status. Belichick said, “whatever he can do is what he can do right now . . . that can change from day to day.”
There was a change for Spikes on Tuesday.
Spikes was at the middle of an all-SEC linebacking group for the Patriots, with Tennessee alum Jerod Mayo at weakside linebacker and rookie Alabama product Dont’a Hightower on the strong side.
After practice, the 6-foot-2-inch, 255-pound North Carolina native barely let a questioner finish when asked if he was glad to be practicing fully again.
“Oh, absolutely,” Spikes said. “Definitely. It’s kind of frustrating watching from the sideline but just to get out, run around, get a little contact, it feels good.”
He said he sat during the opening days of camp because that’s what he was told to do; Spikes took part in the walkthrough to open practices and then warm-ups, but was on the sidelines for other drills and full-team work.
Spikes, who has raised eyebrows in the past with some interesting Twitter posts, was no different Tuesday. He spoke to the media with his helmet — and its dark visor — still on, covering his face a la retired running back Ricky Williams, making for an awkward conversation.
Asked how he’s doing physically and whether he’s 100 percent, Spikes said, “I’m just working to get out there full time, so like I say, whatever they ask me to do, I try to do it at 100 percent. I’m just working to get better. I can’t put a percentage on it, like I said, it’s day by day and step by step.”
In Spikes’s absence, Dane Fletcher played middle linebacker.
The third-year linebacker likes the Patriots’ group at the position, noting that each player has his own strengths, and that their goal is to work together to improve as a unit. He likes his new teammates, rookies Hightower, Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette, and Tavon Wilson, noting their energy.
“They’re just relentless to the ball; you can tell they’re hard workers and they play hard and that’s one thing I respect, a passionate player,” Spikes said. “As long as they can keep getting better throughout the camp, that’s fine with me.”
The last time Spikes played, in the Super Bowl, he and Mayo led the Patriots with 11 tackles each. If he’s healthy, much is expected of him as part of the retooled defense.
Matching those expectations can only happen if he’s on the field.
“It was just fun to get back — it’s been a long offseason, and I’m just happy to be out there running around again,” he said.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.