FOXBOROUGH — After Jerod Mayo tore a pectoral muscle in Week 6 and missed the remainder of last season, there were times when the Patriots linebacker easily would grow frustrated.
Sometimes, the cocaptain and voice of the Patriots defense would sit home and watch the games by himself, making the calls as if he were actually playing.
Other times, he’d take to the sidelines and watch with fellow injured teammates Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.
“They always say you’re closer to the end than you are the beginning, and that’s the mind-set you have to have in football,” Mayo said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “I’ve always appreciated the game and I’ve always appreciated being around the guys and the locker room. When that gets taken away from you like that, it’s kind of tough.”
But Mayo has locked away all that frustration and is looking forward to getting a fresh start.
“To be honest with you, I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. Obviously, we haven’t been on the field doing any contact drills, but walking around I feel pretty good.
“I don’t know how it will feel when we start going out there doing different things as far as a little bit of contact; even though it’s no pads, you can fall a certain way, so I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
When asked whether he felt well enough to play in a football game, Mayo was coy.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
Mayo, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, had missed just five games before last season — two in 2011 and three in 2009 — so it was discouraging to get injured so early and have to sit out a majority of the season.
“It was very tough,” he said. “Any time you go through training camp and through those games, you build camaraderie and a brotherhood. It’s tough watching guys go out there and play, but at the same time, they did a good job, and right now we’re focusing on this year and hopefully I can stay healthy and be out with my guys.”
With Mayo absent from the linebacking corps, younger players such as Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins were forced to step up.
Hightower, who was in his second season, often said he felt in over his head and tried to do too much in Mayo’s absence. He also has said that this year he will be more ready to take a leadership role.
Collins, who was a rookie last season, also was forced to learn quickly and embrace more responsibility.
“I mean, I was learning regardless, but once a guy goes down, it’s the next man up and you’ve got to be strong,” said Collins, who also spoke with reporters Tuesday. “When you lose a guy, the next man has to be ready to play.”
Collins, who was the Patriots’ first selection in the 2013 draft (second round, 52d overall), emerged as a versatile linebacker capable of both rushing the quarterback and dropping into coverage.
In the Patriots’ 43-22 playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts, Collins shined as a coverage linebacker when defending tight end Coby Fleener.
“Jamie’s a great athlete and he does a lot of different things,” said Mayo. “He can cover, he can blitz, and he can tackle. He’s a very versatile player. He’s out here working hard.
“But at the end of the day, we’re a linebacker unit and we don’t talk about individual things. We’re trying to put together the best linebacker unit we can on the field.”
With Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher departed, the core of that unit will be Collins, Hightower, and Mayo.
When Hightower spoke with the media last week, he said he was more prepared to settle into a leadership role after the whirlwind that was last season.
Combine that with the return of Mayo, who’s entering his seventh season, and Collins will have plenty to learn from.
“They’re two great guys to be around, they work hard,” Collins said. “You just watch them around the locker room and it will make you a better person regardless.”