|Matthew Slater explains why Patriots are ‘ultimately the perfect fit’ for his career||04.22.14 at 2:09 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows a good thing when he sees one.
Being special teams captain on a perennial winner like the Patriots, with a chance to go to the Super Bowl nearly every season certainly qualifies.
Add to the fact that his coaches are special teams coach Scott O’Brien and head coach Bill Belichick, and it’s no surprise that Slater is loving life in New England, with no intentions of going anywhere else. Slater is entering the third and final year of a deal worth $5.4 million, signed in March 2012.
Taking time out from his offseason workout program inside Gillette Stadium, Slater, the special teams captain of the Patriots for the last three seasons, says he and the Patriots are a perfect fit because of the coaching he has received.
“I really feel like this is ultimately the perfect fit because coach Belichick understands that you have to have solid effort in all three phases to have a good football team,” Slater said. “That’s something he values and they value here and fortunate for me, I’ve been able to have a little bit of success doing that.
“I definitely think the cerebral part of the game, and really thinking about what you’re doing, having a plan of attack, understanding how you’re being attacked or blocked, understanding what you’re trying to do return-wise. He’s really opened my mind to just being more than a fast guy that’s running down and throwing my body around. It’s a thinking man’s game, believe it or not. He’s really helped me in that area. There’s also been things physically that he’s challenged me to do better. I’m really thankful to have played for a coach like that.”
Ironically, Slater, who is already entering his seventh season with the Patriots, has been in New England longer than his current special teams coach.
|Scott O’Brien: Patriots’ success on special teams is a group effort||11.27.12 at 4:05 pm ET|
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:
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|Devin McCourty: The 104-yard TD return ‘what a special teams coach would love to see’||10.22.12 at 2:01 am ET|
In the first quarter of New England’s 29-26 overtime win against the Jets, McCourty took a kickoff four yards deep in the end zone and returned it 104 yards for a touchdown that tied the game, 7-7, and gave the Patriots new energy.
“It was a kind of what a special teams coach would love to see, ran the ball, made one cut and everyone else got blocked except the kicker,” said McCourty, who deked Jets kicker Nick Folk on his way to paydirt. “When your kickoff return team does that, block everyone except for one guy, as a returner, you’ve got to score right there.”
Then came the nightmare for McCourty and special teams coach O’Brien.
McCourty took a hit from Lex Hilliard at the Patriots 15 and fumbled, with Hillard recovering at the Patriots 18 after the Jets had tied the game, 23-23. The Jets did not take full advantage and converted only a field goal with 1:37 left to take a 26-23 lead.
“My teammates saved my life today,” McCourty said. “A bad mistake in the fourth quarter that I just have to do a better job of holding the ball. This was just a total team win. We just kept fighting. Things didn’t go our way the whole game today. We made enough plays when we needed to for the win.”
McCourty was rescued when Stephen Gostkowski hit a game-tying 43-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime and a 48-yarder in overtime to provide the margin of victory.
“That’s not something that I think I should do and plan on doing so just paying more attention and securing the ball better. I can’t let those other 10 guys down that are working hard to make some tough blocks out there. Whether it’s a score or not, I just can’t let the ball go.”
|Pats hope more experience translates to more success for return game||07.29.12 at 11:08 pm ET|
FOXBORO — What do you need to be a good returner in the NFL?
According to Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien, it requires great vision, instincts, and cutting ability. You also must understand schemes and coverage principles. But before any of that, O’Brien said, ‘there’s toughness.”
“It’s like having to run through a door and you don’t know what’s at the other end,” he said Sunday. “That’s number one.’
The return game was the theme of O’Brien’s press conference on Sunday, and understandably so. Last year, the Patriots were in the middle to lower half of the league in almost every major return category, including average yards per kick return (21.4, 29th overall), total kick return yards (986, 19th overall) and average yards per punt return (10.2, 16th overall).
‘Obviously last year was an area of inexperience for us,’ O’Brien said.
Take, for example, Julian Edelman, who had 28 of New England’s 38 punt returns in 2011.
Edelman ‘had no experience doing it,’ O’Brien said, but ‘[he] had some natural instincts, pretty good ball skills. Again, it was a learning curve for him.’
Now that Edelman has some experience under his belt, O’Brien said the veteran ‘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.’
The coach is hoping that the team’s experience, like Edelman’s, will lead to improved results. ‘It’s like anything else, it’s a point of emphasis for us but it always is.’ O’Brien said. ‘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.
As for whether Edelman should be looking over his shoulder after Aaron Hernandez was seen catching punts in practice on Friday, O’Brien said the tight end is just working on his hands.
‘I think any time you’re a ball handler, one of the hardest things to do is to catch punts.’ O’Brien said. ‘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.’
Edelman, for his part, welcomes the competition, wherever it comes from.
‘Competition makes you better. Competition is big in any aspect of life.’ Edelman said. ‘You guys are competing, we’re competing. We just so happen to have ours on TV and newspapers and stuff. If you’re afraid to compete, you’re in the wrong field.’
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.”
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|Patriots looking for happier returns in 2012||06.13.12 at 4:46 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s not exactly ‘Community Auditions,’ but the Patriots are giving a lot of guys an opportunity to win the job of both kick returner and punt returner throughout the spring practice sessions.
A wide variety of players have rotated in as returners throughout the OTA’s and minicamp practices, including Danny Woodhead (who handled 20 of the 46 kick returns for New England during the regular season) and Julian Edelman (who returned 28 of the 38 punts last season for the Patriots). Wide receivers Donte Stallworth and Deion Branch, safety Pat Chung, running back Stevan Ridley and defensive back Devin McCourty have also been worked into the mix.
Special teams coach Scott O’Brien said Wednesday the current rotation isn’t necessarily an indictment of the group who worked as returners last year, but because ‘you can never have enough’ depth at that position.
‘I don’t know if we’re trying out different guys. We’re getting other guys involved,’ O’Brien said. ‘We keep working in Danny, who I thought got better as the year went on last year, for his first time doing it. So it was good there. Along with Julian, based on how our team unfolds here, we’re going to work in everyone we can.
‘Donte is just like Devin,’ O’Brien said. ‘We got [McCourty] exposed to it — we got him experience doing it. So he does it also too, because you can never have enough. You can never have enough. It’s been good so far for those guys.’
Chung, who did some work as a returner in college, hasn’t worked as a returner since his rookie season.
‘I did it my rookie year. My rookie year I did a little returning, but if they put you there, you have to be able to do it,’ said Chung, who has worked as a kick and punt returner throughout the spring. ‘It’s fun. It’s always fun having the ball in your hands. It’s definitely fun.
‘I like both — punt return is a little harder, just because of the ball, the wind and everything. But it’s all the same. You just have to catch it. Catch and run.’
‘When we had [Chung] as a rookie, we had him catching punts, and actually did a pretty good job for us there,’ O’Brien said of Chung. ‘I think it was the Washington game in preseason I think where he had one at the end of the game and he had a nice return that gave us the opportunity to win the game at the end of the game. He’s had some issues and that kind of stuff, but we’ve never forgotten about Patrick.’
It wasn’t a great season for New England’s return game. The Patriots were in the middle to lower half of the league in almost every major return category, including average yards per kick return (21.4, 29th overall), total kick return yards (986, 19th overall) and average yards per punt return (10.2, 16th overall).
O’Brien said it’s ‘no question’ that return work is an area where the Patriots remain ‘concerned about’ heading into 2012.
‘We know what our standards are, and we didn’t reach them last year,’ he said. ‘We know why and we have to keep working at it.’
|So you want to be a coach in the NFL? Bill Belichick brings you inside his world on the sidelines||12.22.11 at 12:13 am ET|
FOXBORO — Everyone remembers Bill O’Brien and Tom Brady screaming at each other after Brady’s ill-advised red zone pass intended for Tiquan Underwood that was intercepted in Washington in the fourth quarter.
That got people thinking.
What’s it really like for de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to be next to Bill Belichick on the sidelines during a game? And what kind of responsibilities does he have during the game, as opposed to running things from the press box like many other teams do over the course of a game?
“I basically talk to those guys at the end of every series,” Belichick said Thursday. “I talk to [special teams coach] Scott [Scott O’Brien] in the kicking game, maybe not after every play but you know, after a series of plays or whatever ‘ our kickoff coverage or our punt protection or whatever it is. At the end of the series, I usually talk to Billy and Matt or other coaches, it could be Dante [Dante Scarnecchia] or it could be somebody else about the series that happened. We talk about what we need to do or what they’re doing and what we can do about that, whatever it happens to be. That’s part of the whole.
“We talk about that on the headset too. It’s hard on the headset too because if we’re on offense, we’re calling plays, we’re substituting people. That’s not really the time to have a philosophical conversation but when you come off the field after we’ve scored or we’ve punted or whatever the situation is, okay, next time we get out there, do we want to go no-huddle, what do we want to do the next series or what are we going to do the next time they give us a certain look or what are we going to do in the next third and medium, third and long, second and long? If there is a particular situation that we’re not doing well in, what are we going to do the next time that comes up? It’s the same thing defensively ‘ what are we going to do if they put three receivers in the game, what are we going to do if they tighten the formations? Yeah, we talk about that in between series.” Read the rest of this entry »