- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Passing along quotes from Patriots special teams coach Scott O’Brien, who addressed the media at Gillette Stadium prior to Sunday’s practice:
On Aaron Hernandez fielding punts, and whether it was done to practice in the event of an emergency situation.
“No. I think anytime 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.”
On what makes a good kick returner.
“There’s toughness, obviously. It’s like having to run through a door and not knowing what’s at the other end, that’s number one. Great vision, instincts, cutting ability. But there’s a process, those are the instincts of the things you’re looking for. The mental makeup, besides the physical skills. But there’s 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.”
On what skills rookie safety Nate Ebner can bring to the table.
“Well, I think physically he has the skill set to have a chance to do what he did in college here, and to compete here. And so that opportunity is going to present itself, but as far as being a skill guy, to us it’s really too early to tell because with all of our young players, we’re starting them at a position with every phase so they can just get acclimated to terminology, techniques, before you can even advance. What we always try to do is to put our players in positions, no matter what it is, with us in the kicking game, it’s different from the standpoint of they have to have the physical skills that we’re asking them to do. It’s not like being a running back or being a linebacker on offense or defense, we’re asking them to do something physically that they have to have the physical skills to do what we’re asking them to do and then work on the technique involved there. So, he’s like all of our young players, he’s starting at a position, he’s learning the system, and he’s going out and working his technique, and overall, all the young guys are working hard and doing a pretty good job.”
On linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and his development.
“Jeff last year came in from the University of Iowa that had a little bit of experience for some of the things that we did. For an example, like punt protection where I got to watch him play the left tackle at Iowa and similar footwork and rules and that kind of stuff that we use. Had the mentality we were looking for, had the physical skills that gave him what you ask we were looking for, and worked hard and showed improvement and got better, and it worked out where we were able to keep him and then eventually got him an opportunity to play, and then I’m sure it’s like all young guys, he went through a learning curve, had his ups and downs. But I would say in Jeff’s case, every experience he had, either good or bad, he understood them and could learn from them and continue to do the things he was doing well and corrected some of the things that he didn’t do correctly and showed us that improvement. And so far he looks pretty good.”
On Julian Edelman’s development as a punt returner.
“Well you know in Julian’s case, I mean 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. But again, there was a learning curve for him, not only catch that 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. And it’s hard for young guys, even if they had experience coming in with us at the beginning, let alone a guy that’s never really done it. And he’s worked hard, he’s still working on it, he still has some things that he has to improve on there, but he feels more comfortable now. It’s like he plays everything before the play even happens, and that’s what you’re looking for.”