Heads up ball carriers: Mayo still learning

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
At this time last year, educated experts and draftniks were predicting the New England Patriots, despite the need, would not draft an inside linebacker with their seventh overall selection.

Their logic was the player taken with such a premium pick would need to make an immediate impact, and Bill Belichick's 3-4 defensive system was too much for a rookie to absorb right away.

Mocks had the Patriots taking Southern California outside linebacker Keith Rivers or Virginia offensive lineman Branden Albert or Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The Patriots traded back three slots and tabbed Tennessee inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. He started all 16 games, led the Patriots with 139 tackles and earned defensive rookie of the year honors.

So Mayo proved the theorists wrong.

Or did he?

Boston Globe reporter Christopher L. Gasper writes Mayo, contrary to production, wasn't the master of his domain. Mayo told Gasper he never fully grasped Belichick's complex system and relied on athleticism to mask his lack of awareness.

"To be honest, I feel like I can get so much better," Mayo said. "Last year I felt like the season I had was OK, but I felt like I could have made so many more plays, big plays especially. I've just been watching the games from last year and [working] in the weight room, just trying to get better and learn from these vets."

Mayo amassed tackles, but he didn't produce many game-changing plays. He had zero sacks, zero interceptions and one forced fumble.

"Playing linebacker, those are the types of things that you're expected to do -- make interceptions, force fumbles and things like that," Mayo said. "That's one aspect of my game that I'm looking forward to improving this year. The expectations I have for myself are to do those things, and that's what I expect to do this year."