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Bill O’Brien set to call his final game as Patriots offensive coordinator

01.31.12 at 5:36 pm ET
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Bill O'Brien will be calling his final game with the Patriots on Sunday. (AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — What does Bill O’Brien have planned for his final act as the Patriots offensive coordinator? Fumblerooski? Statue of Liberty play?

Not likely. On Tuesday, he did talk a lot about his new gig at Penn State, but New England’s outgoing offensive coordinator touched on a number of other topics as well, including how the Patriots’ game plan might be altered because of the injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski, what it’s been like working with incoming offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the bittersweet nature of calling his final game with New England.

First and foremost, it’s the Giants: O’Brien said New York has a “really good front four,” but that’s only a small part of the challenge that awaits the New England offense.

“[Giants defensive coordinator] Perry Fewell has really done a good job of getting them to play good team defense,” O’Brien said. “The front four, the linebackers and the secondary really work well together. A lot of those guys have played a lot of football together, so it’ll be our toughest game of the year against the best opponent we’ve played all year.”

As for questions about Gronkowski’s status, it certainly appears that the big tight end will be ready to go Sunday. (The walking boot which he was sporting last week is now off … or at least, it was off at Tuesday’s Media Day.) O’Brien said the fact that New England is a game-plan offense means they have some flexibility when it comes to preparing for the Giants, Gronkowski or no Gronkowski.

“We’ve gone through the practice week this week, and we’re a game-plan offense, so we’re putting together a very strong game plan and we feel good about it to this point,” O’Brien said. “These guys have not only bought into their individual roles, but are instinctive and smart enough to change it up every week, change their position. ‘I’m an ‘F’ one week, I’m an ‘X’ the next week.’ Things like that. That’s really been the key.”

Over the last three weeks, O’Brien has had the chance to work with old friend Josh McDaniels, who came on board as an offensive assistant and will become offensive coordinator in 2012. He counts himself as “lucky” for having the chance to work with an old friend again, even if it was for just three weeks.

“Not only is he a great coach, but he’s a great friend,” O’Brien said. “We have a very, very good working relationship. We’re lucky. Bill is lucky. The Patriots are lucky to have him back. I’m lucky to have him these last three weeks. He’s done a great job of just giving us some thoughts on what he sees, especially defensively, but also for our own team. I’m sure he’s observing too, getting ready for when he takes over. Again, a very easy guy to work with. Very bright guy. It’s been a fun three weeks.”

With his stretch as New England’s offensive coordinator coming to an end, O’Brien confessed to having a bittersweet feeling knowing that his time with the Patriots is coming to a close.

“I love it here. I love the Patriots. I love these players. I owe a lot to Bill and the Krafts,” he said. “I’ve had very meaningful conversations with Bill [Belichick] and Mr. Kraft and Jonathan Kraft over the last three weeks, and there’s definitely a part of me that will miss it. I’m from Boston. It’s been a special day for me in that regard too. But in the coaching profession, you have to expect the unexpected. So when this game is over, I’ll move to Penn State, and that’s a special, special place, too. I’m looking forward to that when this game is over.”

Here are some other highlights from O’Brien’s Q&A with the media from Tuesday:

On finding ways to keep the players fresh mentally through the year: “We’re going into our 112th practice tomorrow, so you’ve got to try to relieve the monotony at some time. We try to do it every week. Those guys are coming in and studying their game plan every week and we try to keep it fresh for them.”

On the first thing that comes to mind about Tom Brady: “Great teammate. Very, very smart. He has a great memory. Obviously, he’s one of the best mechanical quarterbacks that has ever played the game. Very prepared every week. You have to prepare for him 10 times as a coach just to keep up with him. He’s had an exceptional year and an exceptional career.”

On the details Brady remembers: “I tell a great story. Last year, when we were getting ready to play Buffalo, he had remembered a play he ran against Buffalo in 2002. It was a double move by a receiver that they hit and he felt like that was a similar play that we could use in that game. Sure enough, right hash, home game, going toward the lighthouse. Look it up, 2002, and there was the play. He has a great memory and he’s a very prepared guy and a great teammate.”

On how difficult it is to execute both jobs at the same time: “I’ve been asked that question a million times, and it’s really about the people at both ends. Bill [Belichick] has really helped here as far as the offensive staff and some administrative people that have helped me in New England when I haven’t been here, and then I think I’ve put together one of the best staffs in the country at Penn State, and they’ve hit the ground running up there.”

On if he envisioned himself as an offensive coordinator in the Super Bowl when he took a job with New England: “One of the things I wanted to do in ‘07 was, if I wanted to be the coach I wanted to be, I had to work for the best. Obviously, the best is Bill as far as what he does and how he prepares a team, how he puts a team together. I didn’t feel like it was a step back. I felt like it was something where I could go in there and learn and become as good of a coach as I could possibly be. I felt great about it, so that’s why my wife and I decided to do it.”

On what he has learned from Belichick as a head coach: “Oh, I don’t have all day. I think the one thing that he does here is he shows you the parameters for what he wants. ‘This is how I want the football team to look. This is the theme or the themes of this football team.’ Then he lets you go coach. He lets you be creative, whether you’re a position coach, a quality control guy or a coordinator. He’s a very, very bright guy who has pushed me and demanded a lot of me, and I really thank him for that, because whether it’s Xs and Os or how to put together a team or how to prepare a team or how to deal with a player, I can’t count all the ways I’ve learned from him, but there’s a few right there.”

On if he will take any offensive systems from New England to Penn State: “Pro football is a lot different than college football, but there are things I won’t tell you here, but you’ll see that we’ll definitely take to Penn State and implement there. Then we’re going to try to put our own stamp on certain things there.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien, Josh McDaniels, Perry Fewell
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