It’s a weird year in Foxboro and no amount of nothing-to-see-here, whistling-past-the-graveyard is going to alter that feeling.
Eye-widening personnel moves before the season (Chandler Jones traded and Dominique Easley cut) and during the season (Jamie Collins trade). Good players playing bad (Collins and Sheard). Suspensions (Tom Brady, Rob Ninkovich and Alan Branch). Business uncertainty linked to expiring contracts (Collins, Sheard, Donta Hightower, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Martellus Bennett).
Quarterback speculation. Coordinators in line for head coaching jobs. Defensive players being yo-yoed in and out of the lineup. Even the damn presidential election. It’s distraction central down there.
Some of it self-inflicted. Some of it is probably unavoidable. But it’s all uncharacteristic. And, following a 2-4 close to the 2015 regular season that was brought on by injuries, there’s apprehension that these little waves of strange are going to eventually tip this season.
What the hell’s going on down there? Longtime Patriots captain Jerod Mayo sat in on Quick Slants The Podcast on Monday night and gave loads of insight on leadership (Mayo was a captain from 2009 to 2015), Bill Belichick’s approach and aspirations and how players deal with the high expectations in New England.
On players not performing well in contract years
“Sometimes people feel like (the lack of an extension) is a slap in your face. ‘The coaches let me go out here and play a year where I could get hurt after I just gave them four years at a discounted rate?’ I can see both sides of the fence now (on contract years) and it’s hard to do. And that’s why they have insurance policies now where you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss of value insurance in case something does happen.”
On work ethic
“I had to work hard, super hard to make it to the league. Everyone takes different paths, everyone works hard. But you have certain athletes or players where it’s so natural. They’re natural athleticism they could play professional football, professional basketball whatever. So you could have this special player who’s naturally gifted, head and shoulders above everyone else. Sometimes you have these guys who don’t have to work out. They don’t have to study the extra film. They don’t have to do these certain things. But to get to the league in the first place you get by on natural ability. So now you have younger players coming up through the ranks who look and say, ‘Man. This guy doesn’t work out, this guy doesn’t (take extra steps).’ But they NEED to work out. They’re not cut from the same cloth or their pedigree isn’t as athletic as these guys.”
On social media
“That killed me in my latter years. I don’t really get into social media. I don’t send out tweets or things like that, but that was the things and the camaraderie kinda changed because guys would run to the locker room and check their phone. But when it became a problem was when a guy would come in the locker room and he was down and out, moping around and you say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘Well, someone tweeted this?’ And I’d be like, ‘How do you let Joe Blow, sitting on his couch, affect your entire day?’ It’s a different era.”
“I remember in 2009 during preseason I was the only captain and Bill was talking about leadership, leadership, leadership. Then the players brought it up and the media was like, ‘Well maybe there is a leadership problem.’ This is nothing new. When things aren’t going well, you start to question the leadership.
“Leadership is a funny thing. You have 100 percent here, that’s the team. You have 10 percent here, who are good leaders. And there’s 10 percent who are bad leaders. And your job as a leader is to grab as many of the 80 percent left as possible.
“This is why New England always wins. They have more people heading in the right direction. I took 12 visits pre-Combine. I remember coming in the parking lot here and knowing this was a different place. There were minvans, pickup trucks, all this stuff. It was all about football. I remember taking a visit to Washington and some other places and you look out in the parking lot and it’s Lamborghinis – there’s nothing wrong with buying something nice – but you could tell is was more of a me, me, me type of atmosphere when you go to a Detroit or Washington.”
On Belichick’s approach
“(You get guys to follow positive leaders by) winning games. Guys love winning games. To win games, even against a San Francisco 49ers team that’s terrible, is still hard to do. If you love to play football and you don’t always need that pat on the back? Then you’re gonna be one of Bill’s guys.
“I remember in the cafeteria during training camp after a practice where he made some plays and he said, “Why doesn’t Bill say anything to me when I make a good play?’ I said honestly, if you’re doing your job he’s not going to say all the time, ‘Good job doing what you’re supposed to do.’ So if you need someone to pat you on the back every five seconds and say good job, this isn’t the place for you.
“Now as far as Bill being out of touch with the locker room, Bill has never been the type of guy to just hang out in the locker room. There is a hierarchy there which I could always appreciate: ‘This is my coach, I would always treat a coach with the utmost respect.’ That’s just how I was raised. Everyone’s not raised the same way especially through the football ranks and the sporting ranks. Bill is from the old-school mentality where it’s a coach-player relationship. Bill would have these captains meeting sometime during the week or on a Friday. He would tell us the message, give us the message and it was our job to translate that message to the players who really wouldn’t be able to understand it coming from Bill.”