ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Brandon Spikes is all smiles.
The former Patriots linebacker is nothing but happy in Buffalo as a new member of the Bills after signing a one-year contract this offseason.
Spikes has stepped in seamlessly as a leader on the defense. He has his old coach, Pepper Johnson, with him in Buffalo, keeping him honest on the practice field and loose in the meeting rooms. And the “Bills Mafia” in Western New York has welcomed him with open arms.
“I love Buffalo, man,” Spikes said with a big smile after Monday’s practice. “It’s a different environment, a little bit out of my comfort zone, but hey, that’s life. You’ve got to adapt.
“And like I said, it’s great. The guys have treated me like a teammate since I signed my name on the paper, so it’s been fun.”
Spikes, entering his fifth NFL season, also is at peace with the way his New England tenure ended after four seasons. After playing in all 16 games with 11 starts last year, his season was abruptly ended when the team placed him on injured reserve with a knee injury right before the playoffs — ostensibly because he had been late to a team meeting during a snowstorm.
Spikes, outgoing and unreserved, never quite fit in with the Patriots’ stoic culture after the team selected him in the second round in 2010. He wrote on his Twitter account, “Free at last,” after signing with the Bills in March, and he has been free to be himself in Buffalo.
Spikes said he has let go of any animosity he held against the Patriots.
“I don’t want to keep harping on that,” he said. “It’s over and done. I’ve moved on, they’ve moved on, we just have to go our separate ways. I’m happy to be here, I’m fortunate.
“Hey, I’m in the league. A lot of guys wish they were in my position. I’m here, I’m blessed, and I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to play another year.”
Is the Bills’ Week 6 matchup against the Patriots circled on his calendar?
“It’s there, but it’s one game at a time, one day at a time,” Spikes said.
The Bills have been thankful to have Spikes on board, especially after young star linebacker Kiko Alonso suffered a season-ending knee injury in July. Spikes is a film junkie who knows how to line up his teammates, and a physical tackler in the run game who can help improve a 28th-ranked run defense.
General manager Doug Whaley didn’t hesitate when asked what Spikes has brought to the Bills’ defense so far.
“Leadership, attitude,” said Whaley. “He’s galvanized the defense, and he’s just been an exceptional addition to our organization.
“One of our weaknesses was our run defense. Having a guy like that in the middle and directing the defense is a step in the direction where we needed to go.”
Spikes, who skipped most of the Patriots’ voluntary organized team activities in 2013, was a 100 percent participant in the Bills’ offseason program.
“I didn’t really know him that well prior to us getting him,” coach Doug Marrone said. “He was here during all the OTAs, he was lifting and running and getting himself in shape. He’s starting to play better and better every week, like he’s getting ready for the season.
“I’ve been very impressed.”
Spikes knows what he’s stepping into. He left a team in New England that seemingly reaches championship games every season for one in Buffalo that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999.
The idea of getting the Bills back to the postseason, though, brings a smile to his face.
“It’s definitely a challenge, and that’s one of the reasons I came here,” Spikes said. “My whole entire life people have been telling me what I can and what I can’t do, so why not go over there and just take the challenge?
“That’s what life’s about. When people are doubting you, you just show them and prove them wrong.”