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Bills hope LB can improve struggling run defense

After a falling out with the New England Patriots, linebacker Brandon Spikes is embracing his fresh start with the Buffalo Bills.

Spikes joined the Bills late Friday night on a one-year contract. The Bills have been active in free agency thus far, signing six free agents. The middle linebacker is easily Buffalo's most intriguing addition.

The 26-year-old Spikes is an aggressive, hard-hitting defender. A second-round pick of the Patriots in 2010, Spikes started 39 of 53 games in New England, with 286 tackles and five forced fumbles. He was third on the Patriots in tackles in 2013 with 86.

"I was excited the whole time to get going with a new start in a new beginning in a new place," Spikes said on a conference call Monday. "I feel like it's going to be fun and I'm down for a challenge. I want to help change the culture there."

Spikes is known for the physical nature of his play.

"All the old-school, throwback 'backers, I just molded my game after them and it just stuck with me this whole time," Spikes said. "I wouldn't call it intimidating, I'm just playing and going hard and relentless and play every play like it's your last."

The addition of Spikes is one of many moves the Bills hope will fix their porous run defense. With Spikes taking over middle linebacker duties, the Bills plan on moving young standout Kiko Alonso to the weak side after spending his rookie season in the middle. The Bills also signed former New York Giants linebacker Keith Rivers to a two-year contract on March 12.

The Bills finished 28th against the run in 2013, allowing an average of 128.9 yards per game.

"I actually think it was like seven games where they gave up 150 yards on the ground. I just want to come and help them out," Spikes said. "That's one of my strengths, stopping the run, and I feel like I can help. Whatever they need me to do, I'm willing to do and do it at a high level."

Spikes joins a defense that has its fourth coordinator in four seasons. Former Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz is installing a base 4-3 following the departure of Mike Pettine, who left Buffalo after one year to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Spikes is set to reunite with his former linebackers coach, Pepper Johnson, now Buffalo's defensive line coach. Johnson made the move from New England in January and Spikes said his presence was one of the reasons he decided to come to Buffalo.

"A great coach, a great inspiration to the game," Spikes said. "He loves the game and he's definitely what I want to be down the road; he's a legendary ball player and coach."

After playing with a knee injury for several weeks in New England, Spikes was placed on injured reserve on Jan. 6. An ESPN report later said Spikes was placed on IR after being late to a team meeting during a Boston snow storm.

On Saturday, after the contract was official, Spikes tweeted: "Free at last, free at last. I thank God I'm free at last. Free at last, Free at last !!!!!! #LetsGetIt #PoWwWwW."

"I just want to kind of close that chapter," Spikes said. "I just want to put that all behind me. It's great just to have a new beginning. I'm excited. The past is the past. I'm happy now and I'm ready to get to work and I'm just ready to help."

Spikes is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Takeo Spikes. Takeo Spikes was a standout linebacker with the Bills from 2003-06. After wearing number 55 in New England, Spikes is returning to the number 51, which he wore earlier in his career, in honor of his cousin.

"He inspired me to be great," Spikes said. "He inspired me to have a dream and chase it. ... Watching him in Buffalo growing up inspired me to wear the number 51 ... he's just somebody I look to be like."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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