|JEROD MAYOQuick to share the credit|
Usually, when Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo sets his sights on something or someone, he tackles it. The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award proved no different.
After he was drafted in April, Mayo referenced that one of his goals was to be the Associated Press NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Yesterday, that goal was realized.
The instant-hit inside linebacker was a near unanimous choice for the honor, garnering 49 of 50 votes (Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers received the other), following a season in which he started all 16 games and led the Patriots and all rookies in tackles with 139 (according to coaches' film review).
Mayo is the sixth straight linebacker to win the award - last year's winner was Patrick Willis of the 49ers - and only the second Patriot. Cornerback Mike Haynes, who went on to be a Hall of Famer, won in 1976.
"It definitely means a lot to me," said Mayo. "I knew when they first drafted me that I was going to a winning organization. They had older guys on the team that I knew I could learn from. I look at it as a team award because I couldn't have done it without those guys."
The 10th overall selection in the draft and the first linebacker selected with a first-day pick in Bill Belichick's tenure as Patriots coach, the 6-foot-1-inch, 242-pound Mayo did what few thought was possible for a rookie in Belichick's 3-4 defense - make an immediate impact. He was a starter in the opener against the Kansas City Chiefs and rarely came off the field for the rest of the season, injecting youth and athleticism into the Patriots' defense.
The Patriots trusted the 22-year-old Mayo enough to let him run the defensive huddle at times.
"Jerod has been a pleasure to coach," said Belichick in a statement. "From the day he arrived, Jerod has been mature and extremely dedicated to his profession and those qualities translated into consistent production on the field. There are still areas Jerod can improve on, but his career is off to a fine start. I am very happy for Jerod."
Mayo admitted he was surprised he was a starter from Day 1 on a team that had gone 18-1 in 2007. He also was pleasantly surprised that such a veteran team welcomed him with open arms, no one more than veteran inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, whom Mayo called "like an older brother to me."
"Coming out of college, I had heard horror stories about coming in as a rookie - guys really wouldn't help you," said Mayo. "I came into the Patriots organization thinking the worst - that these guys weren't going to help me, and they aren't going to want me to play, but it was the exact opposite."
Mayo said Bruschi, quarterback Tom Brady, safety Rodney Harrison, and outside linebackers Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas all went out of their way to welcome him. Bruschi, who missed the final three games of the season with a left knee injury, even continued to review game plans with Mayo after getting hurt.
Mayo said it was that kind of assistance that made his seemingly seamless transition from the University of Tennessee possible.
"It was really tough, to be honest," said Mayo. "There were a lot of hours after practice with coach [Matt] Patricia, the linebackers coach, and a lot of hours with Bruschi. I couldn't have done it without those guys spending extra time with me on and off the field. I'm still not to the point where I'm just out there reacting yet, but I pretty much have the basics of the playbook."
Mayo led the team in tackles in six games and tied for the team lead in one other. The signature game of his season was a 23-tackle effort in the 34-31 overtime loss to the Jets Nov. 13.
Following that game, Mayo seemed to hit the rookie wall, recording just 10 tackles in his next two games. However, he bounced back to register a team-high 35 tackles over the final four games of the season.
"I was disappointed that we had to end the season the way we did," said Mayo. "Everybody talks about the rookie wall and things like that. I am not going to sit here and lie to you and say that my body wasn't getting tired or mentally I wasn't getting tired, but at the same time . . . the last two or three games I started getting that extra energy and that anticipation that we were going to go to the playoffs.
"It's a long season, but at the end of the day the main goal is to win the Super Bowl, and I'm sure I could have made it the rest of those games."
Instead, Mayo is preparing for his first offseason as an NFL player. He believes there is a lot of room for improvement, which is bad news for opponents and good news for the Patriots.
"For the most part I will be here in Foxborough trying to get better," said Mayo. "It is a nonstop thing for me. Football is my life. I love football. I am going to study this past season the things I did well and the things I did poorly and try to improve on those things. I feel like there is still a lot of room for me to improve my game. I will meet with the coaches and ask them, 'What can I do to get better?' I'm trying to have a great season next year. Hopefully, make it to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl."
Patriots punter Chris Hanson was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his work in the 13-0 win over the Bills last Sunday. Facing gale-force winds, Hanson averaged 45 yards on three punts and had a 46-yard punt into the wind in the third quarter.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.