Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

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Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

When Bill Belichick rolled the dice in Indianapolis back in 2009 and failed, you knew there was going to be howling.
 
Fourth-and-2? From your own 28? With 2:08 left and Peyton Manning on the opposing sideline?

Joining in the criticism that week was Tedy Bruschi, newly-minted as an ESPN analyst. Bruschi said that Belichick’s decision was rooted in a lack of confidence in his defense.
 
When us media types showed up in the locker room and dutifully asked players, “What’s your reaction to what Tedy Bruschi said?” one voice forcefully but diplomatically pushed back at the Patriots’ legend.
 
“I have the ultimate respect for Tedy and everything he’s done for this organization, but he’s not in this locker room at this point in time so he doesn’t know the feeling that this defense or this team has,” said Jerod Mayo. “We still have our confidence, we still have our swagger and we’re gonna go out Sunday and show . . . the media, I guess.”

At the time, Mayo was a second-year linebacker out of Tennessee. But nobody wondered who the hell he thought he was countering Bruschi. Instead, Mayo’s willingness to say something that galvanized was one of the few positives of an otherwise sloppy, rudderless year.
 
The 10th overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 was assuming the mantle of leadership in the locker room.
 
He would lead differently than Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison did. He was more inclusive, less judgmental and his sense of humor was bigger and less biting.
 
Mayo – and Vince Wilfork – were the right guys at the right time to lead the Patriots after the 2001-2007 chapter of the New England dynasty ended and a leadership void emerged. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were bleak – at least for these parts – but the 2010 to 2016 reboot and the team’s defensive resurgence is at least in part, thanks to Mayo.
 
I got a Facebook message from a Patriots fan on Thursday. It read, “Was wondering how u felt about Mayo's career as a whole. My opinion: average to slightly above average player, who was a good guy in the locker room. Wasn't the playmaker the 10th pick in the draft should be.”

That feels like the prevailing opinion on Mayo’s career right now. He should have been better. I would counter that being the near-unanimous DROY (49 of 50 votes), an All-Pro after leading the NFL in tackles in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler is a helluva resume. But I also understand the sentiment that, compared to Bruschi, Vrabel or Harrison, there just weren’t the same kind of memorable, seminal moments authored by Mayo.
 
The thing about Mayo is that the value he added was almost all done behind closed doors. In meeting rooms where he sponged what Matt Patricia and Belichick told him and then passed it on to his teammates. At his home where he welcomed and mentored so many of the young Patriots like Dane Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Donta Hightower. He and Wilfork made sure the notion of teammates as family was taken to another level under their watch.
 
And that’s hard for me to really testify to even though I spent more time with Mayo than any other player I’ve covered. For four years, he and I would get together every Tuesday during the season to tape a segment for Quick Slants. He didn’t need the money we gave him. Or the food. He didn’t look forward to leaving his wife, Chantel, and his children at home on the team’s only day off to spend 40 minutes doing TV. But every week, there he was, on time and upbeat, willing to interact with anyone trying to ambush him for an autograph or handshake, generally the guy in the best mood in the whole group. Why? Because he committed to it. Because, as a captain, he was expected to be a public face and a voice for the team.
 
But my anecdotes are irrelevant. It’s the reverence his teammates had for him that speak the most about what he brought. From Devin McCourty  to Vince Wilfork, current and former teammates saluted Mayo on Tuesday night.
 
Belichick hasn’t made a statement yet, but he articulated a number of times his high regard for Mayo. Whether it be saying Mayo was untradable, praising Mayo’s blue-collar approach by lauding him for buying a condo near the stadium and a pickup truck with his rookie paycheck or by stating in 2014 that the team “revolves around” Mayo.
 
“He’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” said Belichick. “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that. But I think that he really touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all the guys. Not just the older guys, but the younger guys. He’s got a great work ethic, great presence on the football field, and great personality. In a very good way, professional but he also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches. As respected as any player in the locker room. One of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of glue chemistry guy.”
 
As fate would have it, Mayo missed four games in 2011 and – in the Super Bowl that season – every bounce went the Giants way. In 2012, he was a Pro Bowler but in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he finished the year on IR. He has a ring from 2014 but never got the chance to be an on-field part of that win over Seattle. He’s a player that deserved to be out there, but as Clint Eastwood famously said in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
 
With his salary cap number climbing higher, his on-field reps likely to shrink even more and the prospect of having to relocate if he wanted to keep playing, Mayo decided, “Enough.” At age 29.
 
Usually, you hear “29” and think, “My God, the kid just got here.” In Mayo’s case, he’s been a fixture and a leader so long, he seems closer to 39.
 
One last thing? Even if Tedy Bruschi was right back in 2009 – and he probably was – I’m sure that hearing Mayo defend his teammates let Bruschi know that he’d left his old team in very capable hands.
 
Bruschi would have been happy to hear it. Even if he was right.

Rob Gronkowski to Bruins: 'Keep your heads up'

Rob Gronkowski to Bruins: 'Keep your heads up'

Rob Gronkowski tweeted some consolation for the Boston Bruins Sunday.

The Bruins lost, 3-2, to the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their playoff series.

The game ended the Bruins' season, as Ottawa advanced to face off against the New York Rangers in the next round.

"Hats off to the @NHLBruins . Played there tails off. Keep your heads up. Playoff hockey is the best," Gronkowski wrote.

The New England Patriots tight end attended the game. He appeared on the NBC Sports broadcast in a box with friends just before the Bruins tied up the game, 2-2, in the third period.

However, the Bruins let up a power play goal from Clarke MacArthur in overtime, which put the Senators past the Bruins.

Prototypical Patriots: Garcia an athletic option at offensive tackle

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Prototypical Patriots: Garcia an athletic option at offensive tackle

No one's clamoring for additions to the Patriots offense in this year's draft class. They had the third-best scoring unit in the NFL last season, and they were fourth-best in the league in terms of yards per game in the regular season. 

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

There's not a whole heck of a lot of room for improvement, and most of last year's group is back for another run. With a major upgrade sprinkled in.

The quarterbacks and the starting offensive line seem set to return. The tight ends lost Martellus Bennett but added Dwayne Allen via trade. The running backs lost LeGarrette Blount but added Rex Burkhead and are primed to add Mike Gillislee. The receivers lost Michael Floyd but picked up one of the most explosive receivers in the league with the addition of Brandin Cooks.

On paper, this is among the best supporting casts Tom Brady has ever had. 

When it comes to this year's draft class, then, any picks made on the offensive side of the ball will seem like they're made with an eye toward 2018 and beyond. We covered a series of those types of contingency-plan picks in this week's mock draft, and in the third round we had the Patriots taking a offensive tackle.

The reasoning? With Nate Solder headed into a contract year, and with only LaAdrian Waddle behind Solder and Marcus Cannon as the team's backup tackle, having a high-upside edge-protector added to the mix could prove beneficial. 

So what do the Patriots typically look for at that position? 

Length, for one. Just looking at their last four early-to-mid-round tackles selected -- Solder, Cannon, Cameron Fleming and Sebastian Vollmer -- all measured 6-foot-5 or taller with 33-inch arms or longer. Weight seems to be less of a factor at this spot as the members of the above foursome ranged from 358 pounds (Cannon) to 312 pounds (Vollmer). 

Athleticism matters, too. All four ran sub-5.3-second 40-yard dashes, while Solder and Vollmer ran three-cones in the 7.5-second range. Cannon, Solder and Vollmer each broad-jumped over 107 inches and surpassed the 30-inch mark in the vertical at their respective combines. 

Taking all of those measurements into account, and keeping in mind some of the other factors the Patriots might appreciate -- college level of competition, experience in a diverse offensive scheme, intelligence, toughness -- here are a few of the names of offensive tackles we'll be keeping an eye on next weekend. 

Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin, 6-foot-6, 310 pounds: This was one of the more head-scratching visits made to the Patriots facilities during the pre-draft process. Ramczyk is widely considered a first-round prospect and arguably the top tackle in the draft . . . yet the Patriots aren't scheduled to pick until the third round. One reason for the extra homework done on the former Badger may have been that he was forced to have hip surgery after last season. He wasn't able to test at the combine, but he's considered one of the better athletes at the position in this draft class. 

Taylor Moton, Western Michigan, 6-foot-5, 319 pounds: Some experts have Moton pegged as a guard moving forward but his arm length (34 inches), hand size (10.5 inches) and athleticism (30.5-inch vertical, 109-inch broad jump, 4.58-second three-cone drill) could make him a fit on the outside. Regardless of where he ends up at the NFL level, the Patriots may need a second-round pick in order to have the opportunity to draft him. 

Antonio Garcia, Troy, 6-foot-6, 300 pounds: The Patriots have taken projects at tackle in the past. Vollmer entered college as a 250-pound tight end who eventually made the move to tackle, but even then rarely had his hand on the ground in Houston's pass-happy offense. Garcia may be seen in a similar light as showed great athleticism to mirror pass-rushers in college -- he did not allow a sack in 2016, per Pro Football Focus -- but is still raw as a run-blocker. Athletically he seems to meet New England's requirements with a 5.15 40-yard dash, a 31-inch vertical and a 108-inch broad jump. He visited the Patriots late in the run-up to the draft, and we highlighted him in our most recent mock.

Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell, 6-foot-7, 318 pounds: In what's thought to be a weak draft class at the position, Davenport's long arms (36.5 inches) and agility (7.57 seconds) may get him selected early on Day 3. If the Patriots feel comfortable giving him what amounts to a red-shirt year in order to clean up his technique and get him acclimated to a new level of competition, they may be willing to bite in the fourth or fifth round. 

Roderick Johnson, Florida State, 6-foot-7, 298 pounds: A durable full-time starter since the middle of the 2014 season, Johnson's tremendous length (36-inch arms) and power allowed him to be named a first-team All-ACC selection each of the last two years. The Patriots have long held an affinity for Seminoles who've worked under offensive line coach Rick Trickett (Bryan Stork, Tre' Jackson), and Johnson could be the latest to make his way to Foxboro if he's available in the middle rounds.

Conor McDermott, UCLA, 6-foot-8, 307 pounds: Maybe the ideal candidate to man one of the edges when it comes to his physical profile, McDermott has nearly 35-inch arms and 11-inch hands. He also ran a 5.18-second 40 and clocked standout times in the three-cone drill (7.52 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.58 seconds). He could afford to get stronger, but in an offense where he won't be pressed into action as a rookie unless there's an injury, he could spend his first pro season focusing his time on developing his power.