Jerod Mayo continues to excel in his fifth season with the New England Patriots. The Pro Bowl linebacker from Kecoughtan High ranks third in the NFL with 125 tackles, five behind leader Luke Kuechly, the Carolina Panthers rookie from Boston College.
But while Kuechly labors for a last-place team, Mayo plays for the defending AFC champions who already have clinched their division and a return playoff trip.
As the 10-3 Patriots – their three defeats, to the Cardinals, Ravens and Seahawks, are by a combined four points -- prepared for Sunday night's home game against the 9-3-1 San Francisco 49ers, future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick was asked about Mayo's progress. New England drafted him in the first round out of Tennessee in 2008, and he immediately earned a starting role and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Mayo had career-highs of 175 tackles in 2010 and two interceptions last season. This year he has a personal best of four forced fumbles.
Belichick said experience and hard work have improved Mayo's technique at a critical position.
Hat tip to friend, Jacksonville Jaguars beat writer and former Daily Press comrade Ryan O'Halloran for sharing Belichick's remarks, which come from a news conference transcript.
"Yeah, I think a lot of times rookies come in and they're talented, they're big, they're fast, they can run and chase the ball," Belichick said, "but a lot of times I would say they're just kind of running around out there. As they gain more experience and more understanding of the total defense and where their teammates are and how things fit on different runs, they usually play with a little more patience, maybe a little more recognition in terms of play-action passes and misdirection plays like that.
"Although, Jerod is very good and has been very good at those. But I think certainly you get better at them through time and understanding the different matchups: which guys really try to knock you off the ball, which guys really try to come and fit up with you and use their athleticism to mirror you, which guys are holders, which guys are cut blockers in addition to the actual Xs and Os of the scheme, but how the individual guys play.
"Same thing with tackling backs. We see a lot of different types of backs: which guys you can really load up on, which guys have a lot of wiggle, which guys are faster than you, not faster than you. So, I think all those things play into it. It's kind of a like a quarterback; the linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what his assignment is and what the play is, but all the way along the line, different angles, how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage to play with, the angle to run to and so forth, the technique.
"So many different things happen in a split second during the course of the play, just like it is for a quarterback. The more of those things that you can do right, slow down, get the most important things, not get distracted by all the stuff that's happening, but just really zero in on a target. I think a good quarterback or a good linebacker, a good safety, even though you have a lot of bodies moving out there, it slows down for them and they can really see it. Then there are other guys that it's a lot of guys moving and they don't see anything. It's like being at a busy intersection, just cars going everywhere. The guys that can really sort it out, they see the game at a slower pace and can really sort out and decipher all that movement, which is hard. But experience certainly helps that, yes."
Belichick is rarely effusive with his BFFs in the media. That he was here speaks to the respect he has for Mayo.
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