Patriots assistant Scott O’Brien talks special teams

By Michael Whitmer, Globe Staff

Scott O’Brien made a guest appearance on the Patriots’ weekly coaches’ teleconference, and the topic at hand had everything to do with special teams, which is O’Brien’s specialty. He has overseen a unit this season that has returned a kickoff for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown, and just last week against the Jets forced a fumble on a kickoff, which was scooped up and also brought back for a touchdown.

But it also was on a seemingly meaningless special teams play — a point-after attempt against the Colts — that star tight end Rob Gronkowski broke his left forearm, an injury that will sideline him for at least a few more weeks.

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Why, O’Brien was asked, was Gronkowski even in the game on special teams?

“Bill [Belichick’s] philosophy has always been to have players on the team fulfill roles. You need them, you look for that,” O’Brien said. “We have specific roles with every phase that we deal with, and we’re committed to playing the best players at the position on every phase that we do have.

“Whether it’s the hands team, where you have starting wide receivers, or the kickoff coverage team, where maybe you have a starting safety. We really want our role players and our 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, and we’re trying to put what we think are the 11 best players out there at one time, and then kind of go from there.”

Devin McCourty is responsible for the kickoff-return score, and Julian Edelman sparked the home win over the Colts by bringing a second-quarter punt all the way back. Edelman also scored the special teams touchdown against the Jets, catching a fumble that was caused by McCourty.

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“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 and to see them fulfill it is obviously gratifying to me,” O’Brien said. “It’s good to see them have success because they’ve worked so hard all year.”