The tables have turned on San Francisco 49ers linebacker Takeo Spikes.
Throughout the years Spikes has built a reputation for smashing ball carriers and knocking them down with reckless abandon, but this season he has been on the receiving end of some pretty big blows.
Spikes’ starting job is in jeopardy and possibly his career could be as well. His body is hurting. And to make matters worse, his team, which many experts picked to win the NFC West, is in turmoil.
Spikes, who played at Washington County High School in Sandersville, returns to Georgia on Sunday when the 49ers (0-3) play the Falcons (2-1) at the Georgia Dome, but right now a welcome home is the furthest thing in his mind.
After all, Spikes has enough problems.
Numerous news outlets reported Monday that the 49ers planned to bench Spikes in favor of rookie Navarro Bowman.
“I thought it was a typo when I saw it as I walked past my television because usually someone talks to you,” Spikes said. “I dealt with it. I went upstairs to see Coach [Mike] Singletary, and he told me he didn’t know where that came from.”
Singletary also shot down those reports when he said Wednesday there will be no changes to the team’s starting lineup.
Still, the reports have Spikes on alert that the 49ers' coaching staff could be watching him closely and have doubts about his future and his playing ability.
“In this business, where there is smoke there is a fire close to it,” he said.
Part of the uncertainty about Spikes' playing time may have to do with the knee contusion he suffered in the 49ers' 25-22 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 20. He left the game in the third quarter and did not return.
Spikes didn’t practice in the days before the 49ers' 31-10 loss at Kansas City on Sunday. He started the game and finished with only two solo tackles.
Spikes said his knee is better and should be fine for Sunday's game.
“I don’t talk about things in percentages because I don’t want to put limitations on it,” he said.
Another reason for the possible uncertainty about Spikes is his age because he knows that the clock always ticks on 33-year-old linebackers.
This is Spikes’ 13th season since he was drafted 13th in the 1998 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He has delivered a lot of blows over the years, and now the wear and tear might be catching up to him.
But if the 49ers' problems were limited to Spikes, then everything would be fine, but they're not. The team’s offensive struggles in scoring and in getting plays into quarterback Alex Smith resulted in the firing of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye on Monday.
Raye, a former assistant coach with the Falcons, has been replaced by quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson.
Because the 49ers are 0-3 in a much-hyped season, it’s easy to see why the rumblings in the city by the bay have nothing to do with earthquakes.
Not only is the team frustrated, but so are the fans.
“I’m frustrated because we know that we certainly are a lot better than our record says, but you are what your record says you are,” Spikes said.
And Spikes has played football long enough to know that one victory can cure a lot of ills.
In many ways that’s why Sunday’s game could be the most important game of Spikes' career. The 49ers need a victory, and he needs to play well.
Spikes said he expects to have between 30 and 35 family and close friends at the game. Effingham County High School football coach Rick Tomberlin, who coached Spikes in high school and has continued to keep up with him, can’t wait to see Spikes play against the Falcons.
Spikes always has been a heavy hitter, and Tomberlin always has been impressed by his desire and work ethic.
Tomberlin’s only wish is that more football fans across the country could appreciate Spikes for his skills instead of letting him be overshadowed by linebackers such as Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher.
“My only regret with Takeo is that I don’t think he knows how good he is,” Tomberlin said. “I don’t know if the rest of the country knows how good he is.”