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Patriots grab O'Brien as offensive assistant coach

Patriots coach Bill Belichick expanded his staff yesterday, adding Massachusetts native Bill O'Brien as an offensive assistant coach.

O'Brien, 37, comes to the Patriots from Duke University, where he spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The St. John's Prep graduate, who is from Andover, has no pro coaching experience. He coached the last 14 seasons at the college level, the last 12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Before Duke, he was running backs coach at Maryland from 2003-2004 and he coached eight seasons at Georgia Tech, serving as offensive coordinator the final two.

"We are pleased with the addition of Bill O'Brien to our staff," Belichick said. "Coach O'Brien has a very good background on the offensive side of the ball and we look forward to working with him."

Last season under O'Brien's direction, Duke finished 105th out of 119 Division 1-A teams in total offense (283.4 yards per game), but as Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator in 2001 he was in charge of an offense that led the ACC in passing and was third in scoring.

O'Brien is the second addition to the Patriots' coaching staff this month. The team named director of pro personnel Nick Caserio to replace wide receivers coach Brian Daboll, who left to become quarterbacks coach with the Jets.

Watson helps out
Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson is among four NFL players who will embark Sunday on visits to US troops at military bases throughout the Persian Gulf.

Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler, Buccaneers linebacker Shelton Quarles, and Chiefs guard Will Shields are the other players participating.

Saints ink Thomas
Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas has agreed to a four-year, $12 million contract with the Saints. Thomas's agent, Ron Slavin, said Thomas will sign today and will be paid $6 million in the first year.

The NFL suspended Thomas, 33, for the last four games of the regular season because he tested positive for a banned steroid, which Thomas blamed on his asthma medication.

Huard, Chiefs agree
Backup quarterback Damon Huard has agreed to a three-year contract with Kansas City; details were not released. Huard, 34, was paid $710,000 last season. He would have become an unrestricted free agent Friday . . . The New York Giants ended concerns about a long snapper for next season, re-signing veteran Ryan Kuehl . . . Safety and special teams standout Quintin Mikell signed a four-year contract to remain with the Eagles . . . 49ers linebacker Derek Smith underwent surgery yesterday to repair a damaged muscle connected to his left eye.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.