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Highlights from Scott O’Brien’s Q&A with the media from Sunday afternoon

07.29.12 at 5:05 pm ET
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Here are a few highlights of the Q&A with special teams coach Scott O’Brien from Sunday afternoon:

We saw Aaron Hernandez returning punts a couple days ago. Is that just an opportunity to get the guy some work in an emergency situation?
“No, I think any time you’re a ball handler, one of the hardest things to do is to catch punts. It’s not only a great drill for any receiver, as well as punt returners, to focus in on trying to catch a ball that normally is tougher to catch than a quarterback throwing you a ball.”

What are the attributes of a good kick returner?
“There’s toughness, obviously. It’s like having to run through a door and you don’t know what’s at the other end, that’s number one. Great vision, instincts, cutting ability, but there’s a process. Those are the instinctive things you’re looking for; the mental makeup, besides the physical skills. But there is a learning process with all returners, no matter what experience they’ve had in the past because of the schemes and the coverage principles that we have to deal with here. It becomes a learning process of how they do things besides just the physical skills they do have.”

What are the attributes of the 10 guys in front of the returner?
“Well that’s a good point because you’re only as good as those 10 guys, no matter who it is. There have been some great specialists in this league through the history of it and there are some now too that make everybody look good, they make everybody look good. No matter who you put on the field, that guy is really only as good as the other 10 guys that give him an opportunity. You’re just trying to get him one-on-one, let him to what he does, but they get him started.”

How would you assess the kick return guys last year? It seems like that could be an area for improvement.
“Obviously last year was an area of still inexperience for us. It’s like any phase after a season – you’re always looking to improve it, no matter how good you are or how poor you are. You’re evaluating the schemes, personnel, what you have, what you can go forward with. It’s like anything else, it’s a point of emphasis for us but it always is. I think in our case, there’s a good example of the learning curve of things that happened the way they happened that were either good or bad. Hopefully we learn from that experience and we continue to improve.”

There seems like there are a lot more core special teamers here than ultimately will be kept. Can you talk about the competition there?
“That’s one thing I think Bill [Belichick] has done ever since I’ve been with him or have watched him when I’ve been other places, it’s bringing in competition for everybody. Right now we have a lot of competition and it will sort itself out. With that, not just young players, there are experienced players there. Not only will it make us better with better competition, give you more options but they make each other better on some of the situations you get into with experienced players versus young players. Young players, they just haven’t experienced a lot yet so they don’t know much. The older players, when you’re talking about a situation or play, they’re alert for things that could come up during the course of the down which really is helpful.”

Can you touch on Julian Edelman’s development as a punt returner? It looked like he had a rough start in the beginning and now he’s at an elite level, so to speak.
“In Julian’s case, he’s one example of a lot of examples through the history of the National Football League – had no experience doing it, had some natural instincts, pretty good ball skills. Again, it was a learning curve for him, not only catching the ball, understand what the ball was doing in the air, how it was going to come down and worked really hard on it. The biggest improvement for him, like all young guys, is not only learning our schemes and what our strategies are for certain situations but field awareness. When you’re on the field, what’s happening to the coverage that you’re going to face? What do you have to do as a returner? What decision do I have to make? It’s hard for young guys, even if they have experience, coming in with us at the beginning, let alone a guy who has never really done it. He’s worked hard. He’s still working on it. He still has some things that he has to improve on now but he’s more comfortable now. It’s like he plays everything before the play even happens and that’s what you’re looking for.”

I noticed that when Patrick Chung was out last year, Danny Woodhead was the personal punt protector. What led you to put him back there?
“There are a couple of reasons. He’s had some experience doing it before. You always like the threat of any type of skill guy to handle the ball. You like the speed element he brings out of the middle of the field in coverage. I can tell you this – you never have enough of them. You try to train as many guys as you can because we all know from week to week, some guys you have, some guys you don’t. That’s one position, you have to have enough guys and Danny stepped up and did a really good job.”

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, Scott O'Brien,
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