FOXBORO -- When Jerod Mayo was placed on season-ending injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle, Patriots rookie linebacker Jamie Collins lost an on-the-field mentor.
"Him walking around as a veteran and me as a young guy," Collins said, "all you can do is watch and learn."
There's a chance now that Collins sees an up-tick in playing time with Mayo out. Since their skill sets are different, Collins likely won't be subbing in for Mayo directly, but as the Patriots linebacking corps is shaken up, Collins could find himself on the field more often.
The rookie's snaps have been in decline since New England's Week 3 win over the Buccaneers. In Weeks 1 and 2, he totaled just six snaps. Against Tampa he had 18 snaps, then his workload shrunk from 12 snaps in Atlanta to 10 in Cincinnati and 6 last week against the Saints.
Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Dane Fletcher are the likeliest to see the biggest increase in responsibility in Mayo's absence, but Collins could see added time in passing downs where his speed and size might make him a good matchup against tight ends. In Week 4 against the Falcons, Collins helped Mayo double-team Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez late in the fourth quarter.
"No matter what the situation is, no matter where they put me," Collins said. "I'm just going to go out there, do what I can and do it the best."
Just as Collins' role within New England's game plans may change with Mayo out, Rob Ninkovich's role in the locker room and in the huddle could increase now that New England's defense has lost both of its captains. (Vince Wilfork was placed on season-ending injured reserve after suffering an Achilles injury in Atlanta.)
Ninkovich explained that he's ready for any added responsibility.
"I think that any time there's a guy like Mayo or Vince who goes down, everyone on the defense has to step up," he said. "Go out there and be a good leader by example, do your job, do the right things on the field, and again, it's something that comes with being here for five years now. I gotta go out there and do my job and what's asked of me, and do it to the best of my abilities, and I think everyone else has that mentality of 'Hey we gotta go out there, work together as a team and play good solid defense.' "
"It's unfortunate that those types of things happen in the NFL but, again, we have to deal with that," Ninkovich added. "We've gotta go play without him now so everyone has to step up and do the best they can. For me, whatever it is, help the younger guys out . . . That's the league. You gotta just move on."