FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick has been coy about the subject of the Patriots’ newest defensive play caller, but our eyes have been telling a different story.
At practice, Jerod Mayo has appeared to be the one calling plays for the defense during full-team drills. That was the first sign. Our suspicions were confirmed in Detroit where Mayo was stationed on the sideline holding the defensive play call sheet while wearing headphones to radio in the plays to his players.
When asked directly if Mayo was the new defensive play caller, Belichick wouldn’t answer. This week, however, the cat was let out of the bag when Patriots safety Duron Harmon confirmed the news to WEEI’s Dale & Keefe show.
“Jerod, obviously, he’s been calling the plays for us,” Harmon said. “He’s been working at making sure he can get the play in on time and he’s been doing a good job for us. Obviously, there are going to be growing pains, and I wouldn’t even call them growing pains. There are just some things we’re going to need to get better at, but right now I like where we are headed.”
We still don’t know if it’s Belichick working as the defensive coordinator inside Gillette Stadium, but the fact that Mayo, a first-year assistant coach, is the one calling the plays on the sideline is still noteworthy. It also shows how much Belichick trusts his former linebacker, whose official title is inside linebackers coach.
Talk to any of the defensive players on the Patriots and they’ll tell you how much respect the 33-year-old assistant has in the locker room. On Tuesday, Michael Bennett said it was easy to see why players like Mayo, who actually came into the NFL one year before the defensive end.
“It’s nice. A guy that you came into the NFL with and now he’s a coach and he’s doing his thing. It’s great to see him,” Bennett said. “I think he was a great player and also he’s a great leader. I think that continues on into the field. People trust him. I think he can connect with the young players because he’s been in the locker room. He doesn’t disconnect from nothing. So, I think that’s the greatest part about it because they resonate with everything he’s been through. People listen to him and they trust his opinion. They know he’s got their best interest at heart.”
Mayo always garnered respect in Foxborough. After being drafted in 2008, he was an instant starter and was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. A two-time Pro Bowler, Mayo was named a Patriots captain by his second season in the NFL.
Even when things went downhill health-wise, you saw Mayo start to act like a future coach. When he spent the bulk of the 2013 and 2014 seasons on the injured reserve list, Mayo was at practice and on the sidelines to help his coaches and teammates.
“He’s really the same. He was a coach on the field and even more now,” said Dont’a Hightower, who played three seasons with Mayo. “It’s great to have him leading the meetings and being able to talk. You know, some coaches, it’s easy for them to say ‘X’s and O’s’ but they don’t really understand what you actually see. With him, he has a different perspective and he’s able to give us a lot of knowledge.”
The Patriots have been through defensive coordinators a lot over the last three years. Matt Patricia left after 2017 to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions. This offseason, Brian Flores left to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins after his first year as defensive play caller. Belichick initially hired long-time friend Greg Schiano to run the defense, but Schiano left the team for personal reasons this offseason.
That’s led to Mayo getting an opportunity of a lifetime.
“It’s fun, man,” Devin McCourty said. “I get on him a lot as a rookie coach. I think it’s cool for me, just a guy that I came in and learned so much from as a rookie and him as an older veteran. Now, learning from him in a coaching role. He was very, very much like a coach even when he was here as a player, so (it’s been an) easy transition for him.”