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.

Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

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Ohio State LB on Belichick: 'When you first meet him, you're scared'

Even for some of the nation's top athletes, confident 20-somethings with the rest of their (perhaps very lucrative) lives ahead of them, there's a feeling you just can't shake when Bill Belichick walks into the room. 

"When you first meet him, you're scared," said Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan, per WBZ. "He's quizzing you. It's like a little test. But after you get done with the test, the quiz or whatever, drawing up the defense, it's pretty cool. They're real down to earth people. Really cool."

Belichick was spotted at Ohio State's pro day getting a closer look at McMillan and his teammates on Thursday. He then headed off to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the Wolverines showcase Friday.

During various scouting trips across the country, the Patriots appear to be showing significant interest in the incoming class of linebackers. Belichick spent some extra time with Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham -- who's projected to be a first-rounder -- at his pro day. The team reportedly scheduled a meeting with a speedy linebacker from Cincinnati. And Matt Patricia caught up with Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu once his workouts finished up on Thursday. 

As for McMillan, the 6-2, 240-pounder was a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Big Ten choice. He's instinctive, but there's some question as to whether or not he has the strength to hold up inside at the next level.

PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

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PODCAST: Dan Wetzel on the Aaron Hernandez double-murder trial

Tom E. Curran has Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports as a guest to discuss the Aaron Hernandez double homicide trial. Wetzel has been in the courtroom, and wrote this piece about the day Hernandez’s former friend Alexander Bradley testified in court. 

After speaking with Wetzel, Curran has Tim Rohan of MMQB.com on to discuss his day with ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

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