Friday, April 18, 2014
The New England Patriots cannot escape their injury woes.
Five players were missing from practice on Monday, all recovering from injuries: Danny Amendola (head), Dan Connolly (head), Aqib Talib (hip), Leon Washington (knee) and Tommy Kelly (knee).
And that list didn't include linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve Wednesday morning.
Mayo, the team's leading tackler in each of his five seasons, tore the right pectoral muscle while making a tackle on the Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter of the Patriots 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Safety Steve Gregory was also involved in the play, but both Sproles and Mayo needed medical attention.
Mayo's loss is huge to the Patriots, who already placed tackle Vince Wilfork on injured reserve after he tore his right Achilles tendon in a game at Atlanta on Sept. 29.
Mayo was leading the Patriots with 66 tackles. In addition, he is considered New England's best pass defender among the linebackers. And his leadership will be incredibly missed, not only on the field, where he directs the defense, but in the locker room where he mentors the younger players.
The Patriots have some depth at linebacker. Second-year player Dont'a Hightower can step up to fill more of Mayo's role. In addition, rookie Jamie Collins should inherit a bigger role, especially in pass defense.
Other options are Dane Fletcher, primarily a special teams player, and Rob Ninkovich, a hybrid who has played both linebacker and defensive end. But to move Ninkovich to linebacker would weaken the Patriots' pass rush.
New England could also use more subpackages on defense, bringing extra defensive backs on the field in passing situations.
We'll find out Sunday, when the Patriots play at the New York Jets, just what direction Bill Belichick is leaning to.
Mike Lowe has covered the New England Patriots since 1999 for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and has had a nice view of their emergence as one of the NFL’s premier franchises.
He’s been at the paper since 1982 and has covered everything from a Little League World Series to the Summer Olympics. He is married to Tracie and they have three children and two grandchildren.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeLowePPH.