Source: O'Brien headed to Penn StateMcDaniels coming back?

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Source: O'Brien headed to Penn StateMcDaniels coming back?

Bill O'Brien has agreed to accept the head coaching job at embattled Penn State a source close to the situation tells CSNNE.com.

O'Brien, the Patriots' offensive coordinator since 2009 (he was given the title in 2011 but carried out the responsibilities in 2009 and 2010 after Josh McDaniels left) wades into a difficult situation at Penn State, replacing deposed legend Joe Paterno who was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

O'Brien faces a hard road in Happy Valley. A smart, passionate coach who played at Brown University and coached collegiately at Duke and Georgia Tech before joining the Patriots' staff in 2007, he's a gifted and innovative offensive mind.

The high points of his tenure in New England came in 2010 when he remade the Patriots offense after Randy Moss was traded, turning the Patriots' attack into a more precise and horizontal scheme featuring rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez along with slot receiver Wes Welker. He also cultivated the overlooked talents of running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the Patriots finished with an NFL-best record of 14-2.

In 2011, O'Brien continued to tap the resources he had, utilizing the tight ends in New England in a way unprecedented in the NFL. That he had Tom Brady pulling the levers had an impact, certainly, but O'Brien's demandingand vocal style played well with the Patriots' hard-working offensive group.

Recruiting promises to be tough for O'Brien. The Sandusky scandal casts a pall on a highly-respected program and - rightly or wrongly - the Penn State brand currently has a stain on it.

The continuing fallout from the situation will undoubtedly be something O'Brien has to tactfully deal with over the next few years as Sandusky's case moves through the judicial system and O'Brien - now the public face of the program - will be in a position to answer questions about it.

One thing Bill Belichick's talented assistants who've moved on to head coaching jobs have often lacked is media savvy. O'Brien is being dropped into a cauldron of turmoil both because of the scandal and as the successor to Paterno.

As for the Patriots, it remains to be seen whether O'Brien stays with the team through the playoffs. Odds are he will. After O'Brien leaves, the Patriots can look to their own staff for replacements with either wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea or tight ends coach Brian Ferentz. They could also look outside the program to either former offensive coordinator McDaniels - out with the rest of the staff in St. Louis - or maybe former Patriots assistant Jeff Davidson.

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

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Call-up coming? Belichick likes what he's seen from p-squad receivers

The Patriots find themselves in a difficult spot following Sunday's win over the Rams: They are a team that likes to lean on three-receiver sets, yet they have only three healthy receivers.

Danny Amendola suffered an ankle injury during a punt return over the weekend that further thinned an already thin position group. The healthy receivers left on the depth chart are Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

The Patriots will in all likelihood make an addition to their 53-man roster at some point in order to bolster their depleted receiving group, and in a way, they've been preparing for this.

With just four true receivers on the active roster, the team has been adding and subtracting wieoutes on their practice squad for much of the year. They began the season with rookie seventh-round pick Devin Lucien and fourth-year wideout Devin Street on the p-squad. On Sept. 14, they added DeAndrew White as a third receiver on the 10-man unit, giving them a relatively unusual amount of practice-squad depth at one spot. 

After Street was signed away by the Colts, the Patriots gave practice-squad shots to Da'Ron Brown and Shaquelle Evans. Neither of those players stuck, but Lucien and White have.

"I think they’ve made good progress . . . They both have been consistent," Bill Belichick said during a conference call on Tuesday. "They’ve been out there every day. They work hard. They’ve made plays for us in practice on the scout team against our defense, so overall our guys on the practice squad do a good job.

"They certainly help us get ready for the games by simulating our opponent’s schemes and playing styles and at the same time they’ve improved with their individual skills and techniques. Both of those guys – they’ve done a good job for us."

ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss reported on Sunday that the Patriots voluntarily increased the salary of White (from the minimum of $6,900 per week to $10,000 per week), perhaps an indicator that he's the favorite as a call-up to the 53-man roster.

White, who has been named one of New England's practice players of the week three times this season, is in his second year out of Alabama. He was signed by San Francisco in May of 2015 as an undrafted free agent, and he played in four games as a rookie, catching two passes for 18 yards. He also returned six kicks and returned one punt for the 49ers.

There are free-agent options available to the Patriots should they choose to go that route.

Keshawn Martin, who was released by the Niners on Nov. 8 and is a free agent, could be an attractive option given his punt-return experience and his understanding of the Patriots system. Others who are out there and have spent time with the Patriots include Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington and Kenbrell Thompkins.

Should the Patriots feel as though they would be straining to add a receiver to the 53-man roster, they could find some help with the depth they have at running back. Dion Lewis, James White and DJ Foster are all capable pass-catchers who have the ability to line up wide or in the slot. Foster, who was a college teammate of Lucien's for one season, played receiver as a senior at Arizona State.