Saban knows he has 'great teacher of the game' in new OC Daboll

Saban knows he has 'great teacher of the game' in new OC Daboll

After 17 years in the NFL, after five Super Bowl titles, after time spent as a defensive assistant, receivers coach, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator, after working with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and under one Hall of Fame head coach, Brian Daboll is going back to school. 

It makes sense that the new Alabama offensive coordinator chose to make the leap from the pro game to Tuscaloosa. In New England he was the offensive coordinator in waiting, it seemed, but Josh McDaniels still hasn't jumped at a head coaching gig and it's uncertain when he will.

With the Crimson Tide, Daboll will get a raise -- he'll easily double his Patriots salary, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss -- and a chance to call the plays for one of the premier programs in college football. He'll also remain in contention for NFL jobs down the line if he wants to work his way back; 'Bama's last offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, just jumped to the Falcons to replace Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator. 

"We are certainly happy to add a coach the caliber of Brian Daboll to our staff," Nick Saban told RollTide.com. "I have known Brian since he worked for us as a GA at Michigan State and he has a fantastic reputation in the coaching profession. He brings a tremendous work ethic to the job and has a wealth of football knowledge. Brian is a great teacher of the game, and someone who can relate well to our players. We are excited to welcome Brian, his wife Beth and their family to Tuscaloosa."

In the last year alone, Daboll's resume got a nice bump as his teaching ability was highlighted throughout the course of New England's run to another Super Bowl. He helped Martellus Bennett grasp a complicated offensive system to the point where it was Bennett who was the target of Tom Brady's throws twice in overtime of the Super Bowl when the team was trying to punch one into the end zone. Bennett finished the season with 55 catches for 701 yards and seven scores.

Daboll was responsible for getting Matt Lengel up to speed late in the season with Rob Gronkowski out for the year and Bennett dealing with myriad injuries. Lengel, from Eastern Kentucky by way of Northeastern, worked with Daboll one-on-one at times in practice and made appearances in six regular-season games after having spent the majority of his first two pro seasons on the Bengals practice squad.

Daboll even deserves some recognition for the season that fullback James Develin put together, perhaps the best of his career to this point, as Develin met with the tight ends on a daily basis. When Gronkowski went out, Develin needed to be ready to take on more tight end responsibilities, and Daboll ran the crash course. 

At Alabama, Daboll will work with a slightly different population. The players will be younger. They won't have the base of knowledge his pro pupils did. And he'll be working more closely with a new position as he takes on the responsibilities of quarterbacks coach. 

"I am honored to have the chance to return to the college game and work for Coach Saban at Alabama," Daboll said in a statement. "He basically gave me my start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in the late 1990s and has always been a very important influence on my coaching career. It is a tremendous opportunity to work at an institution such as Alabama with its rich tradition and history of sustained success, and I'm very excited to get started."

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the Top 50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single Top 10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the Top 50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's Top 50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.

Early consensus: Expert mock drafts have Patriots leaning linebacker

Early consensus: Expert mock drafts have Patriots leaning linebacker

With Dont'a Hightower scheduled to hit free agency and a trio of linebackers behind him with just one season in New England under their belts, draft experts are projecting the Patriots to take a linebacker in the first round.

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