FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady returned from a torn ACL that sidelined him for all but 15 offensive plays of the 2008 season, he talked about how the injury made him realize that no football player is invincible. He had strung seven straight seasons together without a serious injury before everything stopped so abruptly for him. The adjustment, Brady said at the time, was difficult.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo can now relate.
Mayo, the Patriots' defensive signal-caller who makes the crucial pre-snap adjustments to ensure the unit is in the correct call, tore his pectoral muscle in an Oct. 13 game against the New Orleans Saints that ended his 2013 season after six games, producing the longest stretch of time he's ever missed since entering the NFL in 2008.
The 28-year-old Mayo has recovered nicely, which was reflected in his meeting with reporters Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
"They always say you're closer to the end than you are to the beginning," Mayo said after concluding another day in the team's voluntary offseason program. "That's the mindset you have to have in football and I've always appreciated the game, being around the guys, being around the locker room, and when it's taken away from you like that, it's kind of tough."
Mayo, who sometimes had to watch games by himself, added that teammates and coaches were supportive before saying, "I'm just glad to be back now. ... I feel like playing the game is kind of like riding a bike. After the first couple of days of camp, I think I'll be OK."
After surgery to repair the torn pectoral muscle, Mayo noted that the primary purpose of rehabilitation has been to strengthen the ligaments and muscles around it. He credited the Patriots' athletic training staff for doing an "excellent job" to put him in position to return to action.
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I'm just taking it one day at a time. Obviously we haven't been on the field doing any contact drills, but walking around, I feel pretty good."
A few other soundbites from Mayo:
What the team misses without Brandon Spikes: "I guess all the jokes in the meetings. I don't know. Brandon is a great player, obviously he's not with us any more. He brought a physicality to the game that is kind of unprecedented as far as in the run game. He's a good player. But at the end of the day, he's not a Patriot right now. We're going to work with the guys we have in our room."
Overall linebacker group: "I think we have guys in the room that are able to play the game the way it's supposed to be played and go out there and make the same plays. I think we have a lot of talented guys in the room and in the front seven."
Replacing Spikes' swagger: "Did he bring a lot of swagger? What is swagger? I always get kind of confused when a 30-plus-year-old man brings up the word swagger. It's just weird. I don't even use that word and I'm 28 years old. What is swagger? Is it a visor? A bandanna? ... Let's eliminate that word [spoken with humorous tone]."