New England Patriots fans always have been intrigued by Gunner Olszewski, but even the biggest of his fans likely didn’t think he’d build an All-Pro campaign in 2020.
But that he did, establishing himself as one of the game’s premier punt returners. He ran back one punt for a touchdown, while also leading the league in punt return yards (346) and yards per return (17.3). The accolades started flooding in, from AFC Special Teams Player of the Week to first team All-Pro.
“I think I’m in better shape, I think I’m stronger, I think I’m a little faster,” Olszewski said Saturday. “It’s all the things I talked about at the end of the offseason, and running and lifting weights. So I think I’m taking baby steps, trying to climb that ladder as best I can, and it speaks for itself.”
It’s one thing for Olszewski to just be talented. But in listening to him speak, it’s clear he has a genuine interest in punt/kick returning. He’ll watch as many clips of it as he can, and pick the brain of those who also have knowledge.
For him, that actually supersedes just going out there and practicing reeling in punts.
“Yeah, I have a JUGS machine I own and I catch punts. But a lot of it is watching film,” Olszewski said. “I’ve watched, I don’t know, every punt return from around the league, and I kind of put myself in their shoes as a returner. Slow it down, pause it, where would I go, what did he do. It’s a lot of fun to me, that part of the game; just watching the punt returners. So, just film. …
“I try to talk to the guys on our punt return team as much as I can, and get them to see it the way I see it,” Olszewski later said. “And I talk to the other guys we have returning back there, like J.J. (Taylor), and I ask him if he’s looking at anything? Like as a punt returner, I told him it helps having a plan, like when I catch that ball, I pick someone and that’s where I start. I’m only in Year 3, so I’m not going to sit here and act like I have all the answers, but I can help out some of the younger guys now, which is pretty cool.”
Now, the objective for Olszewski is to improve as a receiver.
Through two NFL seasons he has just nine targets and seven receptions, good for 96 career receiving yards with one touchdown. And with the Patriots overhauling their receiving core this past offseason, now is as good a time as ever for him to stake claim to not just the punt returning role, but also a regular pass-catching gig.