FOXBOROUGH — Here, under a soft drizzle and cloudy skies, is where Jerod Mayo’s restoration begins.
Mayo, the 28-year-old linebacker who led the Patriots in tackles from 2008-12, missed most of last season after tearing a pectoral muscle in the team’s 30-27 win over the Saints on Oct. 13. He had 55 total tackles and 1½ sacks and captained the defense through a 5-1 start.
After the injury, though, he was forced to do what every player fears: Watch as his teammates fired through the rest of the season.
“It was tough to watch the games, but at the same time I was pulling for those guys every week,” Mayo said Thursday after the Patriots’ first official practice. “I’m excited about being back out here now.”
“If you ever played this game,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said, “I think you always want to be out on the football field.”
On Thursday, Mayo started the process that he’s done every season since he entered the league in 2008: learn about his teammates.
That task could be more challenging this season, but it carries a potentially prodigious reward. New England signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason, and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork returns after missing all but four games in 2013, when the Patriots ranked 26th in total defense.
Their prospects are promising, Mayo says, but that means little now.
“We have some good players. We haven’t made any plays during the game as a group,” he said. “We’re trying to build the camaraderie during camp and continue to improve.”
Mayo said Revis, a five-time Pro Bowl selection who signed a one-year, $12 million deal in March after six seasons with the Jets and one with the Buccaneers, has meshed seamlessly with the Patriots.
“He comes to work every day just like everyone else,” Mayo said. “Brings his hard hat in the classroom and on the field.”
The secondary tandem of Revis and Browner — a 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound corner suspended for the season’s first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy — plus the returns of Mayo and Wilfork could enhance a unit that allowed 373 yards per game last season.
But after just two hours of official practice, it’s too soon to tell, Mayo said.
“Honestly, it’s been one day of practice out here,” he said. “So we’ll have to see. We have a lot of different schemes, a lot of different plays to put in, so ask me that [again] in a couple of weeks.
“We really don’t know what we’re capable of doing. We’re taking it one day at a time.”
Patricia said that he is treating this camp no differently than any other.
“We have additions every year on the defense,” he said. “Every year the defense changes, the team changes, and the game changes.”
“Every year it’s a different team,” Mayo said. “So you have to [develop cohesion] every training camp. We had a lot of injuries last year, but it’s all about this year and the guys that we have now. So it’s no different than any other year.”
One of the lesser-mentioned offseason signings was that of linebacker James Anderson, who had 102 tackles and four sacks in 16 games with the Chicago Bears last season.
“He’s a cool guy. He’s a veteran. He’s played a lot of football in this league,” Mayo said of the eight-year veteran. “I can learn a lot from him. He comes to work every day, and he studies well in the classroom.”
Gone, though, is linebacker Brandon Spikes, who signed with the Buffalo Bills in March. Spikes, who had 86 tackles in 11 starts with New England last season, tweeted in April that the Bills will beat the Patriots in both matchups in 2014.
“I still talk to him, but at this time I can only care about the guys that are here right now,” Mayo said.Rob Harms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @harms__way.