Jerod Mayo’s impressive return, and other minicamp takeaways
The voice boomed from the sideline with excitement and encouragement. It was a familiar voice coming from an unfamiliar spot.
“You know what? I like it,’’ said Jerod Mayo, before turning it up an octave or two. “I like it!”
The former Pro Bowl linebacker was giving his stamp of approval to the Patriots defense after a series of nice plays during one period of last week’s final day of minicamp.
Mayo sounded like a proud parent as he let his guys know he was pleased with the adjustments, corrections, and progress they had made after several players seemingly were a step late in their assignments.
After a few years away from the game, Mayo is back with the Patriots, joining a revamped coaching staff that lost several key members after winning Super Bowl LIII in February.
Though his official role hasn’t been defined, Mayo indicated in May that he’d be working with the inside linebackers. Now, however, it appears his role might be expanded, as he spent portions of all three minicamp practices splitting defensive play-calling duties with Bill Belichick.
The Patriots haven’t named a defensive coordinator after Greg Schiano’s abrupt resignation in March. Mayo could be serving an apprentice year, calling the plays with Belichick.
The head coach has always referred to minicamp as a teaching camp, and this year it was clear from the start that the guys in the plain silver helmets weren’t the only students.
“I always had the itch to get back into it, get back into coaching, get back into teaching,” Mayo said in May, “and anytime you get an opportunity to learn from the greatest head coach of all time, you’ve got to kind of jump on that opportunity.”
It should be a smooth transition for Mayo, who often acted like an extra coach on the field during his eight-year run with the Patriots as one of the league’s best and brightest defenders. He has an intimate knowledge of Belichick’s preferred defensive schemes and knows several of the biggest playmakers on that side of the ball.
Mayo was teammates with linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as well as safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.
His voice will resonate not only from the sideline but in the meeting and film rooms as well.
“I think Jerod’s personality comes out as a coach, just like it did as a player,’’ Belichick said last week. “We feel very fortunate to have him. He’s doing a great job for us.’’
Here’s the book on some other things that stood out during the three-day minicamp.
■ Teach like a champion
The attention to detail and the hands-on teaching are always impressive at a Patriots practice, whether it’s minicamp, training camp, or in-season sessions.
Coaches offering constructive criticism, one-on-one tutorials to rookies and veterans, encouragement, and, yes, even some tough love, is always apparent.
Among the scenes this time were offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pulling N’Keal Harry aside to correct and polish the rookie’s route running, showing him how subtle moves can influence how a defender reacts.
Another image: Joe Judge, who will add receivers coach to his special-teams duties this season, watching Tom Brady and Julian Edelman work during individual drills and letting others know he wants them to duplicate the veterans’ performances.
■ Great expectations
It was clear from Day 1 that the Patriots have big plans for Harry. He was tested physically (lots of reps) and mentally (lots of face time with Stephon Gilmore), and from a distance, the first-rounder seemed to pass his tests with flying colors.
Harry has ridiculous size (6 feet 4 inches, 213 pounds) and made some tough, contested catches. The caveat, of course, is that tough, contested catches take on a whole new meaning when the pads come on.
He had many small-group side sessions with Brady and McDaniels, and his body language suggests he’s a quick learner and a very coachable player. It would be a shock if he didn’t rocket up the depth chart when summer camp commences on or around July 24.
■ Lord of the Rings
Brady was as crisp as ever, completing well over 70 percent of his throws (unofficially, of course) in competitive situations and, as always, spreading the wealth. The 20-year veteran completed passes to a baker’s dozen targets, including a half-dozen newcomers. The calendar says he’s getting older; his play does not.
■ The Understudy
Jarrett Stidham improved over the three days. The rookie quarterback looked indecisive and jittery on Tuesday, but by Thursday he appeared decaffeinated and confident, calmly completing his passes.
At first it was a surprise that he took third-string snaps over Danny Etling, but the staff knows what the sophomore can do, so a deeper look at Stidham made sense. It’ll be interesting to see if the pecking order is the same in July.
Also, Brian Hoyer showed again why he is considered a smart and vocal leader — not always easy for a backup. He has no trouble calling out a teammate for a mistake and then helping him correct it.
■ Operation linebacker
Collins was large and in charge. He was on the field a lot, and appeared to not miss a beat from his first tour of duty in Foxborough. He was moving swiftly from side to side and also dropping into passing lanes, disrupting passes and knocking them to the turf.
With him, Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Elandon Roberts, this rotation could be one of the most versatile linebacking groups in the league, allowing Belichick and Mayo the flexibility to use multiple packages and groupings to attack offenses.