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Jerod Mayo is done with waiting on the sidelines, but he knows that's where he will best be able to help the team. He can't suit up, he's still healing, he's still getting better- but he's always ready to put in work.
The Patriots All Pro linebacker returned to the New England sideline for the playoffs, after gaining clearance for his limited mobility.
"I've been doing good," Mayo said. "I've been doing better. It's been good being out there with the guys; I've been watching a lot of film with them in the meeting rooms, but just being on the sideline and seeing different things? You can see different things on the sideline than when you're actually in the game. So I'm just trying to give them [his teammates] as much insight that I have on certain plays or certain cues that I can see from the sideline."
For Mayo, his season didn't end when he tore his patellar tendon in week 6 against the Buffalo Bills. For him, it was just another trial to overcome and another situation where he had to push his personal limits to continue his growth as a player and leader on the team.
While he spent time recovering, Mayo made sure everyone understood that he was still available as a captain of the locker room. He's spent time in the linebacker room, going over film with Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins to ensure the transition on the field would be smooth. Mayo shifted focus towards helping his replacements as much as possible.
"I just try and stay in their ear," Mayo explained. "They're probably tired of hearing me talking to them about a lot of different things. But at the same time, those guys are talented individuals and they love the game of football, they're athletic and they can do a lot of different things.
"They've done an excellent job of listening to Coach Belichick, and listening to Matty P [defensive coordinator Matt Patricia], making sure everything is in order before the game- so those guys have done an excellent job all year. We've always had that next man up mentality and they've been doing it for two years."
Collins and Hightower both earned votes to be on the All Pro team this season, and Mayo couldn't be more proud of their successes on the field. The extra time these players have spent together has helped the whole defense improve on the field.
"The guys always know I'm there to watch film, I'm there to help break it down, we meet once a week in the linebacker room, so it's been good," Mayo shared. "Especially because I've been on the sidelines, I can see a lot of different things that they can't see while they're out playing because so many things are going through their mind. It's been very good for both them and me."
Mayo's passion sets the tone in the locker room and permeates to those around him. Whether it's a veteran like Vince Wilfork, or a new player like Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner, everyone falls in line and tries to improve the team every day.
"It's been good," Mayo said about the new players on the roster. "Those guys have stood up for the family. Who ever would have thought? Those guys came in, they're great players- and they're great people- and they enjoy the game of football.
"You won't have any problems playing for Coach Belichick if you enjoy the game of football. You know a lot of people just enjoy the perks that football has to bring, but if you enjoy putting in the time in the film room and enjoy just going out there and working each and every day, the game becomes fun. The practice is really the work and the game is the fun part. Because when you know you've put in the work and the time, and the effort, you know that everything is going to be okay."
As for Mayo, he's unable to participate in the fun. But it's clear that he enjoys "putting in the time in the film room" and working to better himself. He's used this time to help him better understand the game on the field, by sticking around the coaching staff and picking their brains. It doesn't hurt when the Patriots are stacked with thinkers and teachers on the sideline.
"Matty P is a great coach and a great defensive coordinator," Mayo said. "He's a smart guy, you know? I'm trying to learn as much out there as I can so when I do get out there I'll be step ahead of everyone else.
"Having PG [Patrick Graham] coaching the linebackers, he's another one of those smart guys who enjoys the game. He's one of those guys who never leaves any stone unturned. You know if a team has run a play five years ago, he finds it. He's very meticulous and very on top of things. So it's always good to have a coach like that."
For Mayo, he's hoping some of the coaches insight will help him as he returns to the field, and maybe beyond.
"Maybe in the future I'll be a coach!," Mayo laughed. "I don't know. I enjoy the game, I enjoy the nuances and the little things."
And for someone with Mayo's attention to detail and drive to succeed, there's no question that Mayo has a bright future.