In a conference call with the media on Tuesday, Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien congratulated the work of his group, which has come up with some big plays over the last three weeks. Included in that is a punt return for a touchdown by Julian Edelman  against the Colts, as well as a forced fumble by Devin McCourty  which was returned for a touchdown by Edelman against the Jets.
‘I think anytime you can contribute with big plays or put points on the board for your team it’s a credit to the players on the field, what our goals are every week that we try to accomplish,’ he said Tuesday afternoon. ‘And to see them fulfill it is obviously gratifying to me. It’s good to see them have success because they’ve worked so hard all year.’
O’Brien said that like every good return, Edelman’s runback against the Colts was a team effort.
‘Like every week, it starts outside with the gunners we’re playing and matched up against,’ O’Brien said. ‘Anytime you can get your punt returner started, it really starts with the guys matched up on those guys. Then the rest of the players doing their job on their assignment and creating a finish for Julian as he works up the field and Julian doing a good job to get started.
‘We always have a responsibility for the returner to get matched up on, and it’s always their responsibility to make that guy miss or the first player miss to get started. But it really helps when our outside players that play against the gunner as well as the player that matches up against their personal protector that tries to cover, do their job, just to get him started so he can work the field then the rest of the players can finish for him and obviously create an explosive play or in Julian’s case, the effort lies in beating guys at the end, either the punter or whatever on his own to create a score for himself.’
O’Brien also lauded the work of punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Stephen Gostkowski . When it comes to Mesko, O’Brien acknowledged that the punter has a relatively low average, but that’s only a small part of the picture.
‘There’s a lot of stats within stats — you know, where you punt from, what area of the field and when you’re around midfield and you’re trying to back your opponents up and keep the ball out of the end zone and not create touchbacks,’ he said. ‘When those field position opportunities come up, you have to perform there as well as you do as when you’re backed up and you have to exchange field position. I think Zoltan has done a good job of forcing those fair catches and giving us a chance to keep the ball out of the end zone. So, his average obviously is not going to be like it is if you’re continuously punting from your territory backed like you are in plus-50. So that part of it he’s done a really good job trying to control field position for us.’
As for Gostkowski, the kicker struggled at the start of the season with some misses field goals ‘ including a potential game-winner against the Cardinals in Week 2 ‘ but O’Brien never lost faith in him.
‘I have a lot of confidence in Stephen,’ O’Brien said. ‘I don’t think he’s lost his confidence at all. He’s missed a couple that he’d like to have back — we all would like to have back — but the most important thing is that he can learn from either the misses or the ones he does make to make sure he can correct himself if he does miss. There’s probably nobody more disappointed when he does miss it than himself.
‘And again, there are a lot of things that have to happen well for him. We have to snap the ball good for him. We have to hold it good for him and then obviously give him the opportunity to kick the ball and make the field goal. But, I don’t think there’s any concern about the confidence. He’s a self-starter, he’s very competitive. He works very hard at it. The good thing is when he makes contact, he has a pretty good idea of what has happened as a result so he can [move] on to get ready to kick the next one.’
Here are a few other highlights from O’Brien’s Tuesday afternoon Q&A:
What went into making the switch to Devin McCourty as the primary kick returner? How is he doing in that role?
‘Well, I think Devin’s doing a great job. We had Devin working as a kickoff returner as a rookie but not as the main kickoff returner, obviously, but we knew he had big-play ability because he has great speed. He has a really good feel for not only running with the ball but seeing the big picture while we’re trying to set things up. With the experience he’s gained, like any young player, when you come into this level, the schemes are a little bit different than college, obviously. The players that we have to match up are a lot different from week to week. But, he gives us a big-play ability on the field. He takes a lot of pride in it. I think he’s shown progress, which is very important for us, to give us that opportunity, which is to continue to work harder at the other positions to give him more success.’
There has been discussion over the last couple weeks on how to fill out the special teams rosters. Can you talk about what goes into deciding with Bill Belichick  how to fill those teams out?
‘Well, obviously Bill’s always going to have players on the team fulfill roles at positions you need them. Of course we look for that. The preseason’s one thing, that’s where we can evaluate every player we have on our team. But in the regular season, we have specific roles with every phase that we deal with and we’re committed to playing the best players at the positions on every phase that we do have. If it’s the hands team where you have your starting wide receivers or the kickoff coverage team or having a starter from the secondary be your safety or whatever, I mean, we really want our role players and backup players to be the core of our special teams, that’s what we try to build. But we’re always trying to put the best players out there because you have to play 11 players besides your specialist ‘ you have to be able to do the job. We’re trying to do what we think are the 11 best players out there at one time and then we kind of just go from there.’