FOXBORO, Mass. — Rex Burkhead has been a valuable special teamer and occasional kick returner during his NFL career, but he hasn’t returned a punt since college.
That could change this season.
Burkhead, a veteran running back entering his second year with the New England Patriots, has practiced returning punts in each of the team’s last six training camp practices.
The Patriots currently have a need at the position with Danny Amendola gone and Julian Edelman suspended for the first four games. Burkhead said special teams coach Joe Judge instructed him to join the pool of potential candidates after a chance encounter on the practice field early in camp.
“I was just walking off the field one day and just kind of stepped in there and caught one,” Burkhead explained after Tuesday’s practice. “And Coach Judge thought it looked good, so he asked me to come and catch some more.”
Burkhead’s last punt return came way back in 2012, his senior season at Nebraska. He returned 11 punts total during his four years with the Cornhuskers — nine of which came during his freshman and sophomore seasons — and zero in his first five seasons in the NFL.
Eight different Patriots players practiced fielding punts Tuesday: Burkhead, Edelman, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Cyrus Jones, Chris Hogan, Patrick Chung and the recently signed Eric Decker. It remains to be seen who will handle those duties in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.
From a roster construction standpoint, the Patriots could benefit from Burkhead winning that competition. His offensive ability makes him a lock to make the team, and having him return punts, as well, would eliminate the need to carry a player like McCarron, Berrios or Jones who might not contribute much on offense or defense.
“I feel good right now,” Burkhead said. “I’ve still got a long ways to go. Just seeing it again, getting accustomed to NFL-style punting. It’s a little bit different than college and high school, of course. But right now, I’m just trying to get down the little details and fundamentals.”
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images