FOXBORO, Mass. — When Gunner Olszewski first arrived in New England last spring, he wanted to emulate Julian Edelman and Troy Brown, two of the Patriots’ all-time great slot receivers/punt returners.
Not a smart idea, according to one of those role models.
Speaking on a video call after Sunday’s Patriots practice, Olszewski recalled some words of wisdom he received from Edelman in the early stages of his unlikely NFL career.
“When I first got here, I wanted to be just like the Patriots greats like Troy Brown or Julian,” said Olszewski, who made New England’s roster as an undrafted rookie last season. “But I learned quick that everybody moves differently and some stuff works for other people that don?t for other people.
“Some advice that Jules gave me last year, he was like, ?Don?t do what I do. You?ll find your way. You?ll figure out what works for you.’ … For the most part everybody is different with how they move so it?s just figuring it out for yourself a little bit.”
Olszewski has been moving extremely well this summer. A newly converted Division II cornerback at this point last year, the 23-year-old now looks far more comfortable and fluid as a wideout, turning in one of the more impressive all-around performances of Patriots training camp.
Last week, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Olszewski has “improved tremendously” and is “much, much, much further ahead from where he was last year.”
“Of course I?m further ahead of where I was last year,” said Olszewski, one of just four Patriots receivers who fully participated in all 12 of the team’s open training camp practices. “That?s what?s expected.
“I didn?t do anything special this offseason. I just did what was expected out of me. Building on that speed and quickness was what I focused on this offseason. I?m definitely a lot further ahead of where I was last year.”
Olszewski also looks poised to reprise his role as New England’s top punt returner. He’s said he’s learned “a ton” from Brown, who’s coaching Patriots return men this season on top of his duties as the team’s assistant running backs coach.
“I?ve asked him almost every question there is about how he used to catch punts, what exactly he looks for,” Olszewski said. “I?ve probably bugged the heck out of him with some of the questions I?ve asked him. But he?s done a great job just answering all those questions from all us returners. There?s a lot of young guys back there that haven?t returned many punts in the league. So of course, I?m always looking for any advantage I can get and Troy Brown, you know Touchdown Troy Brown has a lot of answers for us. He?s awesome about sharing his knowledge.”
Brown, who scored three punt-return touchdowns during the Patriots’ first Super Bowl-winning season in 2001, has instructed Olszewski to act like the quarterback of New England’s punt return unit.
“He?s on us a lot about when you?re on the punt or return punt team, that?s your team,” Olszewski said. “Just like the quarterback runs the offense; whoever it is, middle linebacker, runs the defense. On the punt return team, the returner, he runs that unit. He?d always tell us that he?d be talking with his guys who are on punt return, watching film with them, telling them, ‘Hey, when this happens, I would like you to do this.’ Really taking ownership in his role and taking pride and putting the punt return team on his back. Having a responsibility.
“That role is all on him. You?re the quarterback of that unit. You?ve got to lead the guys and tell them exactly what you?re looking for. Just talking to them and taking ownership. That?s something he mentioned to us that back in the day when he was returning punts, they had a bunch of Pro Bowlers out on the field — guys who were fantastic defensive players who wanted to stay on the field for fourth down to block for Troy Brown. That?s the kind of unit that they had. I think that?s pretty cool. That?s one of the coolest stories he?s shared with us.”
Before landing on injured reserve last November, Olszewski averaged 9.0 yards per punt return on 20 attempts, the sixth-best mark in the NFL.
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots