FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots special-teams coach Scott O’Brien fielded questions from the media on Wednesday afternoon. Below are highlights from the chat, including his impressions of rookie Nate Ebner and the process of finding players capable to return kicks:
On the kick returner position being a work in progress and trying out different guys. “I don’t know if we’re trying out different guys. We’re getting other guys involved, and keep working Danny (Woodhead), who I thought got better as the year went on last year for the very first time doing it. So it’s good there, along with Julian [Edelman], but based on how our team unfolds here, we’re going to work everybody we can.”
On Donte’ Stallworth as a kick returner. "Donte’s just like Devin [McCourty]. When we got Devin as a rookie, we got him exposed to it, we got him experience doing it. So he does it too. You never have enough … it’s been good so far for those guys."
On whether he’d like to see improvement in the kick return game from last year. "No question. The only thing we’re really concerned about, when I say only thing, is drive starting. That’s the big issue for us. Obviously you’ve got to be good at returning the ball, but you’ve got to be able to handle a lot of situations that come with it, so we’ve gotta keep working."
On the importance of working in elements, such as the rain today. "It’s great. It’s a great experience. Because, especially specialists, they always have something to fall back on. Bill does a good job, even if we’re not getting bad elements of mixing them in, if it’s wet balls and things like that. It’s always good to know exactly what we get here as far as wind patterns, being able to focus on the conditions of being wet, all that kind of stuff. It’s good, it’s great experience."
On the role and value of special teams assistant Joe Judge. "I think Joe is a great addition, and he would be to any team…You’re developing a younger guy at a position that’s very critical in regards to what we do. It’s good because we meet together, we’re on the same page. When we need certain looks, if it’s by the opponent, we get what we need in practice. It’s really good now, he’s learning the tricks and the trades of the NFL."
On potentially using rookie Nate Ebner as a punt returner. "We’ve talked about him handling the ball. But I think that time will come. He’s done a really good job, after we got him out there, of fitting in to what we’re asking him to do as a core guy in the big four (punt, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return). He’s kind of absorbing that first, and then we’ll kind of get with his ball skills as we get into training camp."
More on Ebner. "He’s pretty instinctive. We’ve all seen players not play football very much and have a little bit of experience with, they just don’t have instincts. But I think when you talk about rugby now, those coverage instincts or defensive instincts showed up in him because of the background in rugby."
On if he had any input in drafting Ebner. "Everybody gets involved in that. We all rank players. Since I’ve been around Bill, he does an exceptional job as far as the detail of the number of reports and the future of what we’re looking for. We’re all on the same page there."
On what goes into the decision of making a player a kick returner. "The first thing you gotta do is, they have to show you some type of skill level for it, because there’s more than just catching the ball. With Julian, we liked his stride length, in and out of cuts good, physically good, the quickness that he had, the athletic, the quarterback background, being that leader back there. But catching ‘em was one thing, the experience of making good decisions and having awareness on the field is another. That’s why he’s worked so hard to get where he’s at. That has to come into play, and the only way they’re going to get that is by trial and error on the field, experience the play, either good or bad and learning from it."