For the third straight season, the New England Patriots will finish the season without linebacker Jerod Mayo. For the third straight year, the Patriots will have to find a way to replace his ability and to move forward.
"It's tough. I feel bad for Jerod," Head coach Bill Belichick said. "Nobody's worked harder than he has, and I know how disappointed he is and we all are. And I personally am because I've seen the hard work that he's put in, so it's very unfortunate."
Mayo was the third linebacker on the depth chart, although he was there because fellow linebacker Jonathan Freeny was injured. The Patriots had pushed Mayo down to 4th on the chart for the early part of the season. Mayo's value goes far beyond the field and his presence will be missed.
"Mayo is kind of the heart and soul of not just the defense, but really the team," safety and fellow captain Devin McCourty said. "He gets everybody going. Being able to watch him, he's a special leader; Energy level is always high."
When it comes to replacing Mayo in the line-up, the solution is pretty simple: Freeny will re-assume the 3rd linebacker role. The Patriots will minimize their three-linebacker packages and opt to play safety Patrick Chung in the box, but when necessary Freeny will step up.
But with Mayo on the injured reserve, the Patriots have an open spot on the active roster; who is going to fill it?
New England has one linebacker on the practice squad in undrafted rookie Kevin Snyder from, surprise, Rutgers, although he joined the team on December 16th after spending the summer and regular season with the Lions and 49ers. The Patriots have six linebackers on the roster, though, and Mayo was not a special teams player, so there's a real chance that the Patriots opt to move in a different direction.
Looking at the Patriots depth chart, there are really just two other positions worth considering.
The Patriots have Steven Jackson as the bellcow, James White as the receiving back, and Brandon Bolden as the hybrid back-up. Three running backs is a pretty thin way to carry players on the roster, and there are two on the practice squad in former Broncos running back Montee Ball, and thumper Joey Iosefa. It's very unlikely that New England plans on being run heavy against Denver, though, so this position might remain thin.
When all else fails, the Patriots could add another cornerback to the roster in Rashaan Melvin as the quartet of Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, and Leonard Johnson face the Broncos spread offense. Belichick also can't have enough safeties on the roster, so if there's a chance that Freeny's special teams snaps could decrease with his usage on defense, then a safety like Brock Vereen or Cedric Thompson could make sense. Melvin also plays special teams
Beyond those two roles, the Patriots offer tremendous depth across the board. It's likely that New England will wait to see the health status of their players prior to the game to see which practice squad player could help mask any possible deficiency or injury.