Patriots Notebook 6/7/12: Jerod Mayo, Jabar Gaffney, Dan Connolly

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24: Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots reacts after he sacked Matt Moore #8 of the Miami Dolphins in the second half at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ever since he was drafted back in 2008, New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo has become one of the most reliable and consistently high performing linebackers on the team. Ever since they drafted him, they've wanted to build a more youthful linebacking corp around him.

With the additions of Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich through recent drafts, the Patriots looked to be taking the right steps towards re-building what used to be an elite group of linebackers. In 2012, they took an even bigger step, by drafting Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower, one of the best linebackers in college football last year, with one of their two first-round picks. Not to mention six of the Patriots' seven players drafted will join the defense that he's been captaining for the past few seasons.

In speaking to reporters on Thursday after Patriots OTA's, Mayo touched on the fact that there are several new and young faces out on the practice field playing alongside him. For him, as a fifth-year pro, he's excited to see the new players and looks forward to working with them as a team leader.

"Fortunately, the guys that have come in are football guys. They know the game. So Dont'a [Hightower] came in and wanted to watch film; we watched film together. He understands everything I'm trying to say. That's the fortunate thing about that - having guys who are true football guys."

"It's always exciting when we get guys on our side of the ball. I always love new faces, new talent. It's like different tools you get to work with and those guys are good players."

GAFFNEY GLAD HE'S BACK WITH PATRIOTS

As we witnessed with the release of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco today, understanding of one's offense and chemistry with one's quarterback are two vital things when you play wide receiver for the New England Patriots.

One receiver who probably understood and executed the concept better than anyone is Jabar Gaffney, who returned to the Patriots this offseason after being released by the Washington Redskins earlier this offseason. During his time with the Patriots from 2006-2008, he caught 85 passes for 1,059 yards and eight touchdowns as the team's slot receiver.

Although he was a little bit surprised about his release from Washington, Gaffney had a plan, and knew all along that he wanted to return to New England, where he knows their playbook like the back of his hand.

"You go other places and you realize what you had here," he explained. "Coach Belichick is a one of a kind coach and coming back here reminded me of that real quick."

"It's one of the only places I'd like to be. I loved it here during my time and when I got cut and [the Patriots] called and Coach Belichick called and told me that we could work it out," Gaffney said. "This is where I wanted to be."

CONNOLLY READY FOR ANYTHING

This offseason, the Patriots made it known to utility offensive lineman Dan Connolly that they value his contributions, by rewarding him a multi-year contract, with presumably starters money as the compensation.

During team OTAs, Connolly has received the majority of the first-team snaps at center over Dan Koppen, the man he replaced after injuring his fibula injury in Week 1. But regardless of the contract, or the reps, Connolly is up for anything this season with the Patriots, whether it's as the starting center or as a backup guard.

"I don't know where I'm gong to be as far as position-wise, I'm just out here competing and I'll fit into the spot that's best for me and best for the team," Connolly said after practice Thursday.

"Obviously last year that's what I played (center), but in years past I've played guard too," he said. "I don't know if I have a preference, I've been playing them all and I enjoy whatever I play when I'm playing it. So whatever it is, that's what it is."

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