Jerod Mayo played with the New England Patriots from 2008-15, serving as a captain and twice earning Pro Bowl honors. Now 33, he has rejoined the team as a linebackers coach.   AP Photo/Steve Helber

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Coach Bill Belichick has been coy about who the New England Patriots’ newest defensive play-caller will be, but it’s becoming obvious.

At practice, assistant coach Jerod Mayo has appeared to call plays for the defense during full-team drills. That was the first sign. In Detroit for the preseason opener, Mayo was stationed on the sideline holding the defensive play-call sheet while wearing a headset, through which he could radio calls to his players.

Asked whether Mayo was the new defensive play-caller, Belichick wouldn’t answer. But this week Patriots safety Duron Harmon confirmed it on WEEI’s “Dale and 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’re headed.”

The fact Mayo, a first-year assistant coach, is calling the plays on the sideline is 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 and they’ll tell you how much respect this 33-year-old assistant has. Defensive end Michael Bennett said it was easy to see why players like Mayo, who actually entered the NFL just one year before Bennett.

“It’s nice,” Bennett said. “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.

“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 hi, and they trust his opinion. They know he’s got their best interest at heart.”

After being drafted in 2008, Mayo 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 in his second season.

Even when things went downhill health-wise, Mayo started to act like a future coach. When he spent the bulk of the 2013 and 2014 seasons on injured reserve, 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 linebacker 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 a number of defensive coordinators the last few years. Matt Patricia left after 2017 to become coach of the Detroit Lions. This offseason Brian Flores left to become coach of the Miami Dolphins after his first year as defensive play-caller. Belichick initially hired a longtime friend, Greg Schiano, to run the defense, but Schiano left for personal reasons this offseason.

That’s led to Mayo getting the opportunity of a lifetime.

“It’s fun, man,” safety 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 easy transition for him.”

WHEN TOM BRADY first lined up with his offense at practice this week, it was noteworthy who was and wasn’t on the field. Flanked to his left, out wide, was undrafted receiver Jakobi Meyers. In the slot was 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios. Out wide to the right was undrafted receiver Gunner Olszewski.

The combined number of NFL games for that group is zero.

Sidelined are Julian Edelman (thumb), Demaryius Thomas (Achilles), N’Keal Harry (leg injury), Maurice Harris (unknown injury) and Phillip Dorsett (hand/thumb wrapped). The experience gap between the injured receivers and the ones actually practicing is eye-opening.

In the final 11-on-11 period, veteran Dontrelle Inman replaced Meyers to line up with Olszewski and Berrios. The war of attrition has taken its toll on the receiver depth chart.

“Those guys are working hard,” Brady said. “Training camp is an interesting time with a lot of bodies. There’s a lot of guys in and out. Some years you might have three guys set or four guys set. I think this year we really haven’t had that. It’s good work for the quarterback just to make a read, make a throw. Whether we come up with it or not, at least we’re going to the right place and making a good deceive play. There’s still a lot to be gained with guys moving in and out.”


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