The Patriots first splash this offseason was a reunion with new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
After spending the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, the Patriots college scouting department is consulting with O'Brien on the players he coached in Tuscaloosa and prospects he played against in the SEC or college football playoff.
"It's a huge, huge resource for us having coach O'Brien come from the program he's come from and the conference he's come from. His exposure to players, not only at his school but also in his conference. He knows how they viewed those players and how they attacked them, so that's a big help to us on the college side," Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh said.
Although O'Brien's background at the college level could lead to selecting an Alabama opponent, it's easy to connect Crimson Tide prospects on the offensive side of the ball who are natural fits in the system. Plus, the Crimson Tide prospects at the combine gave great insight into the Pats new OC.
Speaking to Patriots.com this week in Indianapolis, Alabama's top draft prospects had glowing reviews of O'Brien and project as potential Patriots.
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is the odds-on favorite to be selected with the first overall pick, so he's not heading to New England this spring.
However, former Alabama running back Jamhyr Gibbs will likely come off the board at the end of the first or early second rounds. The Patriots might not have a need at the top of the draft for a running back with Rhamondre Stevenson in the fold next season. Still, O'Brien featured Gibbs as an offensive weapon and emphasized getting the explosive do-it-all back the ball by any means necessary, even as a wide receiver.
"I loved playing for Bill. Great guy, great coach. He always brought a lot of energy to the group. He's always honest with his players and knew how to use guys [to their strengths]," Gibbs said. "I really appreciate the way he used me [in the offense] this past year. I know he's going to continue to do that in the NFL. Continue to put guys in the right positions to be successful."
Moving further down the board at a position of need, Alabama left tackle Tyler Steen is in this draft. Steen, who transferred from Vanderbilt and started one season under O'Brien, is a mid-round prospect who projects as an NFL starter at tackle or guard.
"Playing with coach O'Brien was a great experience. He's a really good coach and has a lot of experience. I think he's a really great teacher of the game. He makes it easy on the players. He's got a little juice. He wants the best out of us," Steen said.
Lastly, the Patriots could look toward the future at tight end with Hunter Henry entering a contract year, and Jonnu Smith hasn't lived up to expectations since signing with the team.
Former Alabama tight end Cameron Latu had an excellent grasp of O'Brien's concepts and was used as a run blocker in several ways. Latu has a high IQ to adjust routes based on coverages, showing a good understanding of defense and leverage despite starting on defense.
"First off, I love (Coach) O'Brien. The past few years with him have been great. The way he used me in the offense, I pretty much did everything when it comes to motions, routes, and blocking. He pretty much put me in any position to succeed, and he knew what I could and couldn't do. I enjoyed it," Latu told Patriots.com.
With a strong connection between head coach Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, the Patriots are always linked to Alabama prospects. They have dipped into the Crimson Tide pipeline often over the years.
Adding the most recent offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide to the mix only strengthens the possibility that New England could come away from the 2023 NFL Draft with at least one Alabama prospect.
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