FOXBORO, Mass. — Turns out Jerod Mayo’s handling of play-calling duties was more than a spring fling.
After calling signals for the New England Patriots’ defense during mandatory minicamp, the former Pats linebacker-turned-inside linebackers coach donned the headset again Thursday, radioing in play calls during team drills on Day 1 of training camp.
Does this mean we could see Mayo, not head coach Bill Belichick, replace Brian Flores as New England’s defensive play-caller this season? It’s too early to say. But regardless of what his exact role will be, it already is abundantly clear that when the former Patriots captain talks, his players listen.
“He was a coach on the field and even more now,” said linebacker Dont’a Hightower, Mayo’s teammate for four seasons (2012 to 2015). “It’s great to have him leading the meetings and being able to talk. You know, some coaches, it’s easy for them to say X’s and O’s, but they don’t really understand what you actually see. With him, he has a different perspective, and he’s able to give us a lot of knowledge.
Kyle Van Noy, who never shared a locker room with Mayo, has been equally impressed by the first-year coach’s football IQ and communication skills.
“Mayo is very smart,” Van Noy said. “Really good coach, great at communication, and that will help us during the season.”
Safety Duron Harmon spoke of Mayo in reverent terms.
“Obviously, Mayo, I played with him my first three years,” Harmon said. “He’s probably the — I don’t want to say the, but probably one of the best leaders that I’ve ever been around in my life. Just how he can command a room, how he can command a team, how he can command a defense, it was so unique.
“I had never seen it before until I got here, just how he can have a group of guys and just lead — just lead a group of guys. I’ve never seen it before. That’s when I found out he was coming on staff, I was super excited.”
As Harmon described it, Mayo had a magnetic personality during his playing days, doling out daily tips on football and life to a packed audience of teammates. Multiple players have said Mayo served as a de-facto coach during the final years of his career, which was cut short by injuries at age 30.
“Literally, everyone was always around him,” Harmon said. “When he was in the training room, everybody’s listening to him talk. Whether he was joking in the cafeteria or even in the locker room, guys were just always around him just trying to hear what he was going to say.
“Whether he was joking, whether he was spitting wisdom or whether he was just talking about life, he always just attracted people to him, because he just had a gift of being able to talk and lead.”
Mayo’s usage will be fascinating to watch this summer. Most assumed Belichick would take over defensive play-calling duties following Flores’ departure and Greg Schiano’s abrupt resignation, but he appears to be giving Mayo a trial run of sorts in these early practices.
At 33 years old and with just a few months of formal coaching experience under his belt, Mayo certainly would be an unlikely choice to steer the defense of a reigning Super Bowl champion. We’ll find out in the coming weeks whether that’s a realistic possibility.