Recently, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with Patriots All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo. We talked about the new Pepsi Fan Anthem Campaign and his involvement with it, the development of the defense, his career trajectory, and the upcoming Monday Night match-up with the AFC leading Houston Texans.
To listen to and download the various Pepsi Fan Anthems, visit www.PepsiAnthems.com."
Greg Knopping: Lets get started by talking about the Pepsi Fan Anthem and your involvement with the program. Would you mind sharing what it's all about?
Jerod Mayo: Yeah, leading up to the 2012 season the NFL and Pepsi have gotten the Pepsi NFL Anthem program started and it's just connecting music and sports pretty much. Music is a big part of sports - you listen to music before the game, during the game, and after the game. And Aerosmith, a long time Patriots fan, wrote a great song called Legendary Child, which is the Patriots anthem this year. You can go to PepsiAnthems.com to listen to it and download it. Great song that will get you pumped up for the game.
Knopping: But I guess the big question on everybody's minds... does Bill Belichick approve of the anthem? Cause I hope Bon Jovi doesn't feel betrayed
Mayo: [Laughs] I think he does. I know Bill likes a lot of different musicians a lot of different artists but I think he likes the song.
Knopping: So lets talk football. And lets start with a bit of an overview because we're 12 games into the year, and the defense is definitely statistically improved over 2012, but there's always room for improvement. How would you analyze where you're at on that side of the ball versus where you want to be?
Mayo: You know we're definitely taking steps in the right direction but we still have a lot to improve on. Every week, we're getting the ball from the other guys, getting a lot of turnovers, and things like that. And that's been helping us out a lot especially with the great offense we have. Anytime you steal the possession of the ball that means good things but we have to improve on third downs, which we did last week, and we have to improve on passing yards.
Knopping: And from a more casual perspective, it looked like you really came together last week against the Dolphins. Was that a good feeling to really go out there and sort of win a game?
Mayo: Yeah, it was. Just to go out there and have what we like to call a "blue collar game." Anytime you go to a game like that and have it back-and-forth, back-and-forth [and] you come out with a victory it always feels good. But at the end of the day we're a team and no matter what the score is - whether it's 2-0 or 100-98 - we'll always take the victory.
Knopping: There's also been a focus on I would say, the youth on the defensive side of the ball. And, I think, not looking at it specifically, I think you're the second longest tenured starter on that side of the ball behind Wilfork?
Mayo: Yeah, I think I am.
Knopping: Yeah, but you're only in your fifth year. So what has it been like to develop that leadership role at such an early point in your career, and did you ever see yourself taking on such a role so quickly?
Mayo: No, it feels good. These guys are coming in at a different time than when I came in, you gotta realize the locker room when I came in - I had Tedy Brusci, I had Mike Vrabel, I had Junior Seau - all these guys that played double digit years. And now I'm the second longest tenured guy on defense and I just try to help the young guys out as much as possible.
Knopping: And speaking more on those young guys, the last few linebackers to start as rookies have done pretty well in New England. You in 2008, and Brandon [Spikes] in 2010, and now [Dont'a] Hightower here in 2012. How would you evaluate what he's been able to do so far in his rookie year?
Mayo: You know, he's come in and he's worked hard. That's all you can ask for from a rookie. He's come in and worked hard off the field, on the field, does a lot of extra film study and when he's out there he's comfortable. So as far as evaluating how he's playing this year, that's more of a question for Coach Belichick and things like that, but I think he's done well.
Knopping: And moving off the field a bit, I know a lot of fans would really love to get to know the off the field Jerod just a little bit more -
Mayo: So come to my house, come to my house then [Laughs]
Knopping: [Laughs] Well, what's one passion of yours off the field that fans might not get to see? Like a hobby or something like that?
Mayo: I'm a big gamer. I like to play a lot of games. I'm actually taking the martial art Krav Maga right now, doing that.
Knopping: The Israeli martial art? That's intense [laughs]
Mayo: Yeah, I just try to dabble in a lot of different things. Tried to pick up golf a couple of years ago. It's a hard sport, I'm still learning. I like to try a lot of different things.
Knopping: And when I do these interviews, I always also love to give the players such as yourself a chance to talk a bit about their off the field charitable activities. Because, in my opinion, I think sports are one of the best platforms to advocate community growth and wellness, and to be an athlete to go out there and change something. And in 2011, you were given the Ron Burton Community Service Award, so I was wondering if you'd be able to expand a bit on what you've done off the field?
Mayo: Yeah, my wife and I, we share a real passion about giving back to the community and we feel that we have a great platform and we do the Mayo Bowl every year, but at the same time we try to do other things - because it's all about trying to give back. But we're part of two great organizations in Boston Medical and Pitching in For Kids. Two great organizations that we feel deeply about.
Knopping: Getting down to X's and O's a bit, I know that Bill Belichick has always praised you as one of the smartest and most versatile defenders that he's coached. Along with that, you've played in a variety of different schemes, especially the last few years because it seems like you guys are going back and forth whether it be the 3-4, the 4-3, playing mostly sub-defenses - So could you talk a little bit about what versatility means to you, and how your responsibilities have shifted specifically in the defense this year?
Mayo: Versatility to me means just being able to do a lot of different things, show a lot of different looks and we're fortunate to have a lot of guys who are versatile on the defensive side of the ball that have played defensive end, that have played linebacker, that have played both, even can play some type of role as far as the safety are concerned. We have a lot of guys that play a lot of different spots and I think that's some along the way. But as far as the defense is concerned, we're a game plan defense. We change every week. We do different things every week. One week I might be blitzing, one week I might be in coverage the entire game so it just changes every week.
Knopping: And you had a pretty good blitz on Tannehill this week - that red zone sack.
Mayo: I appreciate it, yeah. It was a great call from the sideline and it was a good play.
Knopping: And, I know it can be a bit of a tough question, but what's one part of your game that you think is underappreciated, or something that you really value that fans might not see stand out on Sundays?
Mayo: I would probably have to say my communication skills, making sure everyone is on the same page, but at the same time it's something that I have to improve on. That's something that you never become perfect at. Getting everyone lined up, making sure everyone's on the same page and doing their job.
Knopping: And along those lines, I don't think any player can go through their career without their fair share of obstacles. Now that you're in your fifth year, could you talk about what's been the biggest obstacle for you to overcome, or your biggest struggle?
Mayo: Well, probably the two years that I was injured. It was an injury thing. It's a violent sport and you never want to get injured but sometimes it gets tough not only physically but mentally as well. You want to be out there with your teammates and things like that.
Knopping: And you mentioned it a bit before, but how are you still trying to improve your game?
Mayo: Like I said earlier, I try to get better every day as far as my communication skills, as far as tackling, as far as cover skills. I just feel like I have so much room to improve. I try to get better at every aspect of my game.
Knopping: And I've got one more question for you. Texans are coming up this Monday night, it's a pretty big match-up, and you guys got a pretty good chance to make some progress on that one seed. What are you going to have to do to win this game?
Mayo: Well obviously I think it starts with Arian Foster and trying to slow him down in the running game. I think if you can make them one dimensional - that's the first part of going out there and having a successful game.