Inside linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Jerod Mayo had some high praise for Jamie Collins and the rest of the Patriots linebacking unit.
As expected, the New England Patriots defense is one of the better units in the NFL.
Maybe not as expected, the New England Patriots defense might be the best unit in the NFL.
New England leads the league in interceptions with six, leads the league in sacks with 13, leads the league in defensive touchdowns with two, is tied for third in total takeaways, has the third-best turnover differential overall, and is first overall in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.
To top it all off, the Patriots defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown since the AFC Championship.
Some of these eye-popping statistics and figures probably will regress down the line as New England faces stiffer competition, but for now, it’s the best start for the team’s defense in the Bill Belichick era by far. And according to inside linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Jerod Mayo (himself a former Patriots player under Belichick), a lot of the credit for all the early-season success should go to the linebackers.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins Sr., Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Shilique Calhoun… these are all names that should soon become familiar in households across America, not just in the Northeast, if they aren’t that way already.
Collins, in particular, deserves plenty of credit and praise. Now on his second stint with the Patriots after a rocky first marriage that ended with him getting shipped off to Cleveland for a couple of years, Collins is making the most of his second chance and is impressing early and often. He’s the team’s leading tackler through three weeks – plus he also already has two interceptions, 2.5 sacks, and a defensive touchdown on the season.
“Jamie’s a very versatile player. He has great size, great length,” Mayo told reporters during a call on Tuesday, per USA Today’s Henry McKenna. “Jamie is a very smart guy. He’s able to recognize a lot of different things, a lot of different plays. … As far as game planning is concerned, one week he’s on the outside, the next week he’s on the inside. That goes back to his versatility, just being able to play different positions. And he’s making plays at all of them.”
Indeed, it might be versatility that separates these Patriots linebackers from their brethren on other teams, and makes the unit just so darn special overall. Mayo himself noted that all of the Pats’ starters – Collins, Hightower, and Van Noy – can do so much more at the linebacker position than even he (Mayo) was expected to do back when he was still playing from 2008-2015:
“These guys are totally different than I was as a player. I was your classic inside linebacker. When you look at all of our linebackers, they’re able to do a lot of different things. Any time you’re able to have guys who can put their hand in the dirt, who can blitz from off the ball, who can cover from off the ball, it’s always beneficial to the coaching staff.”
If New England’s linebackers keep up this fast start, they could help carry the team all the way to another championship. That would obviously be a major accomplishment for Mayo, who is making his NFL coaching debut this season… and who so far has been pretty impressive himself in that role.