BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
What's in a name? Plenty, the Bengals hope.
Auburn LB Takeo Spiokes gets a hug from his mother Lillie Spikes at Planet Hollywood in San Francisco Saturday.
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Takeo (pronounced tuh-KEY-o) Spikes' intriguing first name means "great warrior" in Japanese. The Bengals hope he will be exactly that as an NFL linebacker.
Spikes, 21, believes his name prophesied his football prowess. "I think the name kind of goes along with (his playing style)," the junior from Auburn University said Saturday after the Bengals made him their top draft choice with the 13th overall selection.
"I'm a sideline-to-sideline player. I like to play with reckless abandon, and that's the way I've always been taught since I was a kid."
Spikes, a consensus All-America and All-Southeastern Conference first-team performer, would appear to be the ballhawk Cincinnati's defense sorely needs. He had a team-high 136 tackles last season, including two sacks and nine tackles for losses. He also intercepted two passes.
Though Spikes was generally considered the draft's second-best linebacker behind Georgia Tech's Keith Brooking, who Atlanta took with the No. 12 pick, his physical gifts may have been peerless. The 234-pounder was timed at 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash, though Bengals linebacker coach Mark Duffner cited a 4.48 clocking. Either is above-average for a linebacker. He bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times at the NFL's scouting combine in February and recorded an impressive 37-inch vertical leap.
"He may be the best athlete of all the linebackers we saw," said Duffner, who plans to try Spikes initially as an inside linebacker covering the "weak" side, opposite the offense's tight end. "When he hits you, people stay hit."
At 6-foot, size is the only attribute Spikes lacks. Ideal linebackers are about two inches taller.
But the Bengals believe Spikes' quickness, tackling skill and aggressiveness compensate for his stature.
"I don't think I'd say that in front of him," coach Bruce Coslet said to a reporter who asked a question about Spikes' insufficient height. "He'd put you right through that wall."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau pointed out that five-time Pro Bowler Sam Mills starred for 12 years with New Orleans and Carolina while standing just 5-9. Former Chicago Bears great Mike Singletary was 6-foot.
"Will there be some plays he has to look around the guard on occasion? Sure. It's not a perfect world," LeBeau said. "Would I like to have him run and move like he does and be 6-foot-3? Sure. But you don't find guys with his movement being that tall."
Doug Hendrickson, who assists Spikes' agent, James Sims, expressed optimism about a quick signing.
"We feel that it's going to benefit him to get him in camp on time," Hendrickson said.
About that name: Spikes' mother, Lillie, liked what she heard when former Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda made news around the time her son was born on Dec. 17, 1976.
On the field, Spikes prefers to announce his presence in a more violent manner.
"Once you make a big hit, it lets your opponent know, "This guy's out here for real. We better buckle up,' " Spikes said. "You've just sent a message."