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Resetting Patriots depth chart: Linebacker 04.29.15 at 1:38 pm ET
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Jamie Collins was one of three NFL defenders who finished the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Jamie Collins was one of three NFL defenders who finished the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try to assess the level of need going forward. We’ve broken down each position on the offensive side of the ball. Now it’s defense. We started with the defensive line. Now it’s the linebackers:

Current depth chart: (2014 regular-season stats via coaches film review and Pro Football Reference): Jamie Collins (109 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 2 INTs, 3 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries), Dont’a Hightower (92 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Jerod Mayo (52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 1 fumble recovery), Deontae Skinner (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Darius Fleming (5 tackles), Chris White (9 special teams tackles), Jonathan Freeny, James Morris, Cameron Gordon, Eric Martin, Rufus Johnson

Lost in free agency: Jonathan Casillas (21 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 forced fumble) was an excellent special teams presence and a quality backup, stepping in late in the regular season when Hightower was briefly shelved. He signed with the Giants as a free agent.

Gained in the offseason: Jonathan Freeny. A defensive line/outside linebacker type who has seen limited action in his four seasons in the league, the 6-foot-2, 242-pounder has 26 tackles and a sack in 44 career NFL games.

Other changes: Morris is an intriguing puzzle piece who could have an expanded role in 2015. He spent the entire 2014 season sidelined because of a knee issue, but his size and skill set suggests he could slip into the same role that Casillas had in 2014.

Is this an area of need going into the draft? Not an immediate area of need, but there was a lot of talk out there about the Patriots continuing to work out linebackers as the draft approached. Regardless of whether or not this is simply to guard against any injury worries (Mayo is apparently OK to return at the start of camp, while Hightower is expected to be on the shelf throughout the spring and into the summer) or if there are real depth questions at the position, New England would likely prefer to build some depth at the position. While there’€™s the possibility they can do that via a veteran free agent that’€™s still on the market (Colin McCarthy is one possibility) or an early- to mid-round pick, look for the Patriots to add some linebackers between now and the start of the summer.

Read More: Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, resetting the depth chart
Report: Patriots, Jerod Mayo rework contract to 1-year, $4.5 million guaranteed, with 2 option years 04.22.15 at 12:29 pm ET
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According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Jerod Mayo and the Patriots have reworked the linebacker’s contract.

The former No. 10 overall pick has restructred his deal to $4.5 million guaranteed for this season and a chance to make $6 million with playing time incentives. Then he has options for two more years, with the team having to pay him $4 million next year before free agency begins and the same before 2017, all according to Rapoport.

Mayo has suffered season-ending injuries each of the past two seasons — tearing his patella tendon in Week 6 this past year against Buffalo and tearing his pectoral muscle in 2013, also in Week 6. With his current contract, Mayo would have had a cap hit for 2015 of $10.3 million.

The Patriots would have owed Mayo money if they cut him because of an injury protection guarantee in his contract.

Mike Garofalo of Fox Sports was first to report the sides were close.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Jerod Mayo,
A brief history of Patriots and their pre-draft contact with recent top picks 03.16.15 at 1:50 pm ET
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Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Before he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, Dominque Easley had an inkling New England was interested in his service. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With the pre-draft process now in full swing — and private workouts and visits looming for each team starting later this month — fans and media alike will undoubtedly try and gauge the level of the Patriots’ interest in a player through visits, contact and workout sessions. With the understanding that some of the pre-draft conversations can be a smokescreen, some of it can be done for intel down the road and some of can be for practical scouting purposes, here’s a look at the pre-draft connections New England has made with some of their top draft picks over the last seven years.

Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (taken with New England’s first pick in 2014, 29th overall): Easley was brought in to Foxboro for a pre-draft visit with the Patriots. He later recalled that Bill Belichick showed up at his pro day, and they “talked a whole lot and got to know each other,” according to the Florida product.

Linebacker Jamie Collins (taken with New England’s first pick in 2013, a second-round selection at No. 52 overall): Belichick flew South to work out Collins before the draft, but the linebacker later indicated he didn’t talk much with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process, at least when compared to other teams.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (first-round pick 2012, 21st overall): Jones said the only substantive contact he had with New England prior to being drafted was a conversation at the combine that winter in Indy. “I talked to the Patriots — I talked with them at the combine,” he said. “That was the most formal thing we did. That’s basically it — we talked at the combine.”

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (first-round pick 2012, 25th overall): He didn’t work out for Patriots, but he said he “had a small (idea)” the Patriots were interested, he indicated following the draft. “I met with those guys at the combine and I met them at one of the pro days,” Hightower recalled, “I knew that they were kind of interested in some of the defensive players that we had at Alabama.”

Tackle Nate Solder (first-round pick 2011, 17th overall): Solder had “fairly limited contact” with the Patriots throughout the pre-draft process. He met with former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia the Monday before the draft in Colorado, but also had a scheduled visit to Foxboro cancelled at the last minute as he was preparing to leave for New England. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” Solder later explained. “I was scheduled to visit (but), the minute before I left, it was cancelled. That’s all I know.”

Defensive back Devin McCourty (first-round pick 2010, 27th overall): McCourty met with Belichick prior to the draft, where the two had a film session on campus at Rutgers. “Bill Belichick had come to my school for a coaches’ clinic, and he was going to fly right out after the clinic to see his son play in a lacrosse game,” McCourty recalled. “But we had an hour, we watched some film and we spoke for a little while. We had a real generic conversation, but he showed me some things on film, just watching and helping me out as far as being a player.”

Linebacker Jerod Mayo (first-round pick, 2008, 10th overall): Mayo had 11 visits with teams during the pre-draft process, and remembers his visit to Foxboro fondly. “I had a great visit when I came down there,” he said after the draft. “The coaches and I sat down and talked football for a long time. Like I said, I just had a great visit and I felt like we clicked.”

Read More: 2015 NFL Draft, chandler jones, Devin McCourty, Dominique Easley
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Linebacker 02.16.15 at 6:11 pm ET
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Jamie Collins was one of three NFL defenders who finished the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Jamie Collins was one of three NFL defenders who finished the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions. (Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback, offensive line, safety and cornerback. Now, it’s linebacker:

Depth chart (regular-season stats via coaches film review): Jamie Collins (109 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 2 INTs, 3 passes defensed, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries), Dont’a Hightower (92 tackles, 6 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble), Jerod Mayo (52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 1 fumble recovery), Jonathan Casillas (21 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 forced fumble), Deontae Skinner (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Darius Fleming (5 tackles), Chris White (9 special teams tackles)

Overview: After losing Mayo to a season-ending knee injury in October and letting go of vets like James Anderson in the early going, the linebacker position appeared to be perilously thin just six games into the season. But the work of Hightower and Collins throughout the bulk of the season and into the playoffs was, for the most part, excellent. There were occasional missteps here and there, but the two did an excellent job working in tandem as the Patriots utilized a 4-2-5 look for large portions of the season.

Collins possessed the speed to run with backs and tight ends who were occasionally split wide. He also had the strength to work inside, not only against the run, but also as a pass rusher coming up the gut as a blitzer in the A gaps. Likewise, Hightower showed a knack for getting after the quarterback, setting a career-high when it comes to sacks and quarterback hits. The duo were augmented by the addition of Casillas, who was utilized most as a special teamer, but also played significant snaps (51 of a possible 57) when Hightower was inactive with a nagging shoulder injury prior to the win over the Chargers. Meanwhile, Skinner, Fleming and White worked most as special teamers and occasional depth additions over the course of the season.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see what sort of role Mayo will have with the team in 2015, as well as whether or not he’s a possibility to have his contract re-done. Figure that Collins and Hightower will continue to work as playmakers, and given his positional flexibility, Collins could be used in a variety of roles next season. But as long as they stay healthy, this positional grouping should continue to be one of the best on the roster.

Best moment: Collins had several impressive games over the course of the season, but it’s hard to argue with his impressive performance on Dec. 7 against the Chargers in San Diego. Without Hightower in the lineup, Collins was all over the field — he finished with a team-high nine tackles, to go along with two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pair of quarterback hits.

Worst moment: While there weren’t too many on-field moments that were overly troubling, the loss of Mayo to a season-ending knee injury in an October win over the Bills in Buffalo was a sizable blow to the New England defense. The work of Hightower and Collins down the stretch and into the postseason was excellent, but Mayo’s leadership, knowledge of the system and abilities to defend the run was tough to replace.

By the numbers: 3 — Collins was only one of three defenders to finish the regular season with at least four sacks and two interceptions, joining Green Bay’s Julius Peppers and Seattle’s Bruce Irvin.

Money quote: “I think Jamie is really developing as a great young player. He’s obviously learning the NFL game and trying to improve on just the fundamentals and the understanding of the different looks and the awareness and things like that that he’s seeing. That’s all starting to come together for him, and he’s a very, very smart guy. He’s quiet, so sometimes, you’re hard-pressed to figure it, but he’s pretty smart. He studies a lot and he has a good grasp of what we do. Obviously, athletically it’s unbelievable — his size, his length, and his speed is very rare.” — defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Collins and how he’s developed within the New England defense

Read More: Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, position-by-position breakdown
Jerod Mayo’s daughter grills Bill Belichick, steals show at Patriots’ media day 01.27.15 at 3:51 pm ET
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PHOENIX — Rarely does the media get to see Bill Belichick smile and laugh. But on Tuesday, at media day here in the Valley of the Sun, Chya Mayo was able to turn the trick.

Yes, that Chya Mayo is the start of “A ‘Lil Mayo” on Patriots.com and the four-year-old was going around asking different Patriots questions. What was her question for Bill Belichick?

“What stuffed animals do you like?”

His answer: “I like a little puppet that you can put your fingers in. A little monkey.”

But it stop there. Belichick responded with a question of his own. “Did your daddy fix your hair?”

Belichick was also asked about the last three movies he had seen.

“Last three movies I saw: Unbroken, American Sniper ‘€“ those two for sure. I think back to what I saw in the summer, but those two for sure.”

Naturally, with his Mona Lisa Vito reference from last Saturday, he was asked about his favorite movie starring Joe Pesci.

“Home Alone. Definitely Home Alone. No question about that. Home Alone and Home Alone 2 over the Christmas holidays. My Cousin Vinny. Put them all in there.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chya Mayo, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots
Jerod Mayo on MFB: Patriots sometimes get attacked unfairly 01.22.15 at 1:09 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo joined Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss his rehab, Deflategate and also to look ahead to the Super Bowl. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

This entire week has been all about Deflategate in the media and there hasn’t been much discussion at all about the actual Super Bowl game. Mayo said it it’s been highly unusual.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Mayo. “At the same time I know the guys are focused on Seattle and you know the whole ‘ignore the noise.’ That is what the guys are doing. When you get in between the walls, we’re studying film and trying to move forward.”

The linebacker was asked how he feels about the team being under scrutiny a lot of the time. He acknowledged it happens, but it isn’t something the team thinks about.

“I really don’t know. I don’t what know it is,” he said. “I feel like sometimes the team sometimes gets attacked unfairly, but at the same time really it doesn’t matter, we’re trying to put a good performance on each and every week. I know the guys are really focused on the game and it’s a huge game. We’re not really bothered with all that going on.”

Mayo suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 6 against against the Bills. It’s the second straight year Mayo has suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. He said rehab is going well.

“I’m doing good. Rehab is going well,” Mayo said. “I’m doing good. We’ll keep taking it one day at a time, no setbacks here.”

Despite being placed on injured reserve, Mayo has still remained part of the team, showing up at the facility everyday, watching film and helping out the linebackers. He has even been on the sidelines during the playoffs, something unusual for a Bill Belichick coached team, to have a player on injured reserve on the sidelines.

“I just tried to keep the guys calm. I know it’s a long game and sometimes things don’t go your way,” said Mayo of what he did in the Baltimore game. “I try and keep everybody calm and obviously I can see things from the sideline that you can’t really see on the field. It’s difficult to see the entire field when you’re out there looking at certain keys. I can see a lot of things on the sideline and I just try to rely some of the things that I see to the guys.”

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Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Jerod Mayo, Super Bowl XLIX,
Dont’a Hightower explains how Jerod Mayo stays relevant by keeping his voice heard 01.08.15 at 6:10 am ET
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FOXBORO — Sometimes a player can make his impact without stepping on the field.

In rare cases, that player can help inspire his teammates to a new level that helps them achieve something special and unexpected.

For Dont’a Hightower, that player is Jerod Mayo.

Like he did in 2013, when he tore his pectoral muscle midway through the season and missed out on the playoff run that ended in the AFC championship in Denver. History unfortunately repeated itself on Oct. 12 in Buffalo when Mayo injured his knee. Season over. Again.

But ever since then, Mayo has made it a point to stay involved with direction and focus of the defense. It’s that involvement as a type of sounding board that Hightower pointed to as a big reason for the maturity of defense and its evolution into a dominant unit.

“Most definitely. A guy that’€™s been in this defense as long as he’€™s been in [it] and a lot of games, big games he’€™s played in and a lot of big plays he has,” Hightower said Wednesday. “We all still stay pretty close. We’€™ll run [things] by him, we’€™ll catch film, he’€™ll throw pointers out there and different things. He’€™s run this defense for so long. Me, him and Jamie [Collins], we’€™re always still picking each other’€™s brains as far as different perspectives on things.”

Hightower can only sympathize with Mayo not being able to play in the playoffs for a second straight season.

“Mayo is a great player and he means a lot to this team and this organization,” Hightower said. “He’€™s not taking it for granted. He’€™s still, what little he can do as far as off the field, as far as his film study or giving us actual notes, maybe he’€™s watched the game a week or two in advance that we haven’€™t and he sees some things. He’€™s still in our ear and our back pocket. He’€™s still out there with us.”

Mayo isn’t the only player who has been taking Hightower and fellow young linebacker Jamie Collins under his wing. Vince Wilfork made it clear that he’s never had more trust in the pair than he does heading into this playoff push. Having a healthy Wilfork for most of the season has allowed Hightower to reach another level, something Wilfork was unable to do last season since he was lost in Week 4 with a torn Achilles.

“Last year in this spot we weren’€™t able to have as much meat ‘€“ best way to say it ‘€“ in the front,” Hightower said. “Vince helps a lot, especially having an older guy, a veteran guy who knows the game as well as he does. It slows everything down. It slows the offensive line from getting on top of us. Nobody is just going to leave Vince Wilfork single-blocked at all. He helps a lot, as well as Sealver [Siliga] and [Alan] Branch and Chris Jones as well.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo
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