Tackling the job
Mayo led way, organized Patriots during lockout
FOXBOROUGH - He won’t talk about it now, though that really shouldn’t surprise us.
When it comes to talking to the media, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo handles things in textbook Bill Belichick style. That is to say, he says as little as possible. Especially when the topic is himself.
It is well known that Mayo organized four-day-a-week workouts during the lockout that at least 15 of his teammates attended on a regular basis at a facility not far from Gillette Stadium.
The workouts were intense and lasted more than three hours each.
Those involved have even come to be known as “the Mayo group,’’ but now that the workouts are over, now that the lockout is behind us and the Patriots have begun preparing in earnest for the 2011 season, it’s ancient history to Mayo.
“Ahh . . . I don’t want to talk about that one. I’m going to tip-toe around that one,’’ he said on the first day of camp.
Mayo may forever refuse to divulge details of those workouts, but the real story is that he organized them.
He made sure that players who remained in the area for much of the lockout had a place they could go and be together and put in the work to stay in the best shape they could.
And when it was time to organize the full-team, on-field work the Patriots did at Boston College in early June, Mayo was essentially in charge of making sure defensive players knew all of the details.
Just because the Patriots were on pause because of the lockout didn’t mean Mayo’s role as a leader was put on hold, too.
In his first year in New England, Mayo had the good fortune of learning at the elbow of Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison - guys who had won Super Bowls and made game-winning plays and still watched as much film as they could get their hands on.
Mayo speaks of them with reverence now. But they’ve all retired, and Mayo, all of 25 years old, is the one left to pass on their lessons as well as his own to the Patriots’ new core of young defensive players.
“It is a little strange,’’ Mayo said. “It’s my fourth year in the league, but at the same time I feel like I’ve learned enough over these past few years to really hand down some information to those guys, and that’s what I’m going to do.’’
He did it last year with Dane Fletcher, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie from Montana State - a far cry from Mayo, who was far more heralded as the 10th overall pick out of SEC-hardened Tennessee in ’08.
“If you need a question answered, he definitely will step in and help you out with it, and it’s kind of like the open-door policy with him,’’ Fletcher said. “It’s not like some veterans, they won’t talk to you about it like, ‘Hey, this is my job on the line.’ He doesn’t think about it like that. If anybody has any questions and you don’t feel comfortable going to the coaches or whatnot, he’ll definitely step up and help you out.’’
While any member of the Patriots will readily say Mayo’s role on the team has been growing since the day he walked in the building, he refuses to call himself a leader. He believes it sounds arrogant.
But perhaps that’s what real leaders do anyway: they don’t ask for attention, they don’t make sure everyone knows the great job they’ve been doing. They just go about their business and it’s up to others to speak for them.
“He’s well-respected, obviously, and he’s got a very good rapport with his teammates,’’ Belichick said of last year’s league leader in tackles (175). “I think that because of the respect he has, players listen to him. Coaches listen to him and they respect his point of view and his opinion.
“But at the same time, I don’t think he tries to push a lot on people. I think if you ask him a question he’ll tell you and he’ll try to help you, but he’s not trying to run everybody’s life. It’s not that type of a thing at all. I think he has great leadership qualities and a tremendous amount of respect throughout the entire organization, absolutely. And it’s been that way from Day 1.’’
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork sounds a bit like a proud papa when talking about Mayo and the way he’s seen the Virginia native go from above-average rookie to unquestioned captain. He says Mayo entered the league as “a baby,’’ but he still had qualities that not all rookies do. The guys such as Mayo are the ones who stick around.
Wilfork and Mayo talk often, and watch film together often. Wilfork has twice as many years in the league and twice as many years in the defense as Mayo, but there are times when Mayo sees something Wilfork doesn’t or teaches him something new.
To Wilfork, however, Mayo isn’t just the leader among the linebackers or even the defense. “For this team,’’ he said.
“He’s one of the guys that you know where his mind is. He wants to get better. If we leave the field and we played like crap, guess what: he’s going to let you know we played like crap,’’ Wilfork said. “Even when he’s played like crap, he’s going to tell me, ‘I played like this,’ ‘There’s a block, I didn’t do it right,’ whatever. He’s very critical on himself.’’
Jerod Mayo may believe it arrogant to declare himself a team leader, but he doesn’t need to do so when everyone else will do it for him.