Leadership In The Middle

When rookies are asked to contribute, it's usually in a supporting role. Not so for Patriots LB Jerod Mayo. The former NFL Defensive rookie of the year found himself one of those teammates looked to for guidance last season, and he accepted the challenge.

New England opened its offseason program March 15 at Gillette Stadium, the first tangible step in the 2010 team building process. Though much of the offseason is deemed voluntary under CBA rules, many players earn workout bonuses for their participation and the Patriots generally get strong spring commitments from the bulk of their players.

Among those in attendance to kick things off this time around for a team that's seemingly searching for leadership coming off a disappointing 2009 playoff blowout loss to the Ravens was linebacker Jerod Mayo. Heading into his third NFL season, and having been voted a captain last fall, the former No. 10 overall pick seems ready to take on an even bigger role in New England.

"I think I can definitely step my game up as far as being a more vocal leader," Mayo said. "Last year, I was still a second-year player ... it was a void, as far as having that vocal guy on this team in general. I think this year is a year where guys can step up and say what they have to say. It's a young team as a whole and young guys will listen."

Earlier this offseason New England owner Robert Kraft spoke openly about chemistry for his team, or maybe its lack thereof a year ago. Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork, now working under a new lucrative long-term contract, openly talked about building a team on and off the field this offseason and weeding out "bad seeds."

Mayo was all for Wilfork's assertion that he's ready to take on a more active leadership role moving forward.

"That's what we need," Mayo said of his fellow defensive captain's recent comments. "We're fortunate to have a great team. Guys don't really slack and do things like that. But if that's what's needed, that's what will be done."

But Mayo, New England's leader in tackles in each of his first two pro seasons, knows there is a difference between saying what needs to be said and cheap talk.

"It's a thin line between phony, rah-rah speeches, and genuine speeches that guys like Junior can do easily," Mayo said, referencing former teammate and noted locker room leader Junior Seau. "I have to find that line and hopefully get that point across."

Mayo admits he was thrust into the vocal leadership role a year ago with New England's offseason departures that included the retirements of Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, as well as the trades of Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour.

"It was pretty tough, but at the same time, I knew I had the coaches behind me, and the players behind me as well," Mayo said. "It was difficult at first, but I feel I can be a much better leader this year than I was last year as far as on the vocal end. I still will lead with my actions. Just being more vocal I think will help this team."

For Mayo, though, the first step in leadership will always be in his actions. That's why he was on hand to open the offseason program as New England works slowly toward building a better team -- on and off the field - for 2010.

"I try to go in each and every day and work hard. The guys see me," Mayo said. "I try to build relationships with the guys. This is the time where we build camaraderie, where all the guys come together."

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