Could This Undrafted Rookie Be Patriots’ Next Special Teams Ace?

'(He has) all the makings of being a really good veteran player someday'

by

August 19

FOXBORO, Mass. — An undrafted rookie has made the New England Patriots’ Week 1 roster in each of the last 18 seasons.

Brenden Schooler looks like a strong candidate to continue that streak.

A versatile, highly athletic Texas product, Schooler isn’t likely to contribute at his listed position of defensive back. But he projects as a potential special teams weapon for a Patriots team that needed to replenish its pool of kicking-game talent.

Since the spring, Schooler has worked closely in practice with Matthew Slater and Cody Davis, two players who have carved out successful NFL careers by excelling in kick and punt coverage. The Patriots seem to be grooming him for a similar role.

When New England sent out its top kickoff unit during one of this week’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, Schooler was on it. The other 10 members of that unit were Slater, Davis, Jonathan Jones, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Adrian Phillips, Jahlani Tavai, Ty Montgomery, Justin Bethel and Jake Bailey, nearly all of whom are locks to make the 53-man roster.

On one kickoff, Schooler raced downfield, slipped a block and decked returner Keith Kirkwood, knocking him to the turf. He also had a role on multiple other special teams units and was the personal protector on New England’s punt team during last week’s preseason opener against the New York Giants.

“I like him,” Slater said after Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, he’s from Southern California, so I like him. But he’s doing a great job of just trying to come in here and get better every day, and as a rookie, that’s all you can ask. As veterans, hey, if you come in here, you learn, you get better, you ask questions, you take coaching, you compete at a high level every day, we can work with that. So it’s been a joy to work with him so far.”

Before signing with the Patriots in May, Schooler showcased his elite athleticism at Texas’s pro day, running a 4.43-second 40-yard dash with a 37 1/2-inch vertical jump, 128-inch broad jump, 4.10-second short shuttle and 6.71-second three-cone drill at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds. The 24-year-old played both safety and wide receiver during his college career, which included stints at Texas, Oregon and Arizona.

Schooler hasn’t seen offensive snaps for New England, and he sits near the bottom of the depth chart in the Patriots’ loaded safety group. He almost certainly won’t be part of Bill Belichick’s defensive plans this season. But he looks poised to play a major role on special teams, helping the team replace the likes of Brandon Bolden, Brandon King, Gunner Olszewski, Chase Winovich and Jakob Johnson.

Those five all logged at least 160 special teams snaps for New England last season and now are playing elsewhere. Slater (36 years old) and Davis (33) also are two of the Patriots’ oldest players, so the team would benefit from an influx of youth in the kicking game.

“He’s sticking on those (veterans),” safety Devin McCourty said of Schooler. “… He’s just a guy that wants to learn. He understands a little bit about how the NFL life is working, and he wants to take advantage of it. He has an opportunity between JB — Justin Bethel — Cody and Slate, he has a chance to be around three outstanding special teams players. He understands that, and he’s taking advantage of learning from them, going through drills with them, asking how they see things.

“(He has) all the makings of being a really good veteran player someday.”

Defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is another undrafted rookie who’s flashed in training camp. He and Schooler will have another opportunity to impress Friday night against the Panthers.

UPDATE: Schooler delivered another positive performance against Carolina, dropping a Panthers kick returner inside his own 15-yard line and notching a late interception. At this point, it would be surprising if he wasn’t included on the Patriots’ initial 53-man roster.

NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

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