A torn pectoral muscle will keep two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo out for the year, leaving the New England Patriots yet another enormous hole to fill on their defense. Mayo joins fellow defensive captain Vince Wilfork on injured reserve.
What it means: Mayo is a tackling machine. He’s led the team in tackles every season since 2008 and ranked in the top-10 in the league four out of those six years. (The two years he didn’t - 2009 and 2011 – are also the only seasons in which he’s missed games.)
He’s also one of the few players who can stay on the field regardless of the situation. Over the last four years, he has played virtually every defensive snap. Courtesy of ESPN.com, Mayo played in 95.9 percent the Pats’ defensive plays in 2012, 83.1 percent in 2011, 96.8 percent in 2010, and 73.7 percent in 2009. (And again, he missed a total of five games in 2009 and 2011.)
Mayo is at his best against the run and while he won’t be mistaken for Darrelle Revis anytime soon, he’s is a more-than-capable coverage linebacker. He did an excellent job in a nearly impossible assignment last Sunday staying with the lightning-quick Darren Sproles out of the backfield.
Who can fill in: There is no one player who can replace everything Mayo does. In the team’s base 4-3 defense, Mayo’s spot as the weakside linebacker will likely be filled by either special-teamer Dane Fletcher or rookie second-round pick Jamie Collins, who has just 52 snaps on the season.
Fletcher is a solid, if-unspectacular four-year veteran who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. He’s primarily played special teams this season but after three years with the team, he has a lot of familiarity with the Patriots’ scheme.
Collins is a former high school quarterback who moved to safety in college before settling in at linebacker. He’s long and lean and has terrific athletic ability but lacks the strength to hold his ground and be consistently disruptive against the run.
Where the Pats are likely to miss Mayo the most is in obvious passing downs, where the defense lines up in either nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six d-backs) packages.
Most likely Fletcher and Collins will split time but in obvious passing downs, where the defense lines up, Collins is the likely replacement as he is probably the team’s best coverage linebacker.