Myles Bryant still is new to this punt-returning thing, and it shows.
The Patriots cornerback, who took on punt returning for the first time during training camp, has been fine with the ball in his hands. The problem for Bryant has been keeping the ball in his hands.
Bryant muffed his first punt return attempt in each of New England’s last two games. The first was an especially egregious error against the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the second was a more generic — though still inexcusable — muffed punt against the Baltimore Ravens.
Fortunately for Bryant, neither miscue wound up hurting the Patriots. The third-year pro recovered the ball both times, sparing himself further embarrassment.
Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater revealed his message for Bryant while speaking with reporters Monday afternoon.
“We stick by him,” Slater said during a Zoom call. “Look, I’ve been there as a returner — muffed balls, fumbled balls. I think it’s important for him to know that we have a lot of confidence in him. And he needs to maintain his confidence in himself. And this is part of it: There are some growing pains when you’re doing something in the NFL that you’ve never done before.
“Thankfully, like you said, it hasn’t been too costly. But we need to continue to improve, and I hope he knows that all the guys have his back.”
Patriots special teams coordinator Cam Achord also believes Bryant will figure things out.
“Myles is an even-keel guy,” Achord said Tuesday. “Myles will bounce back, you’ve seen it.”
Bill Belichick’s decision to anoint Bryant as Gunner Olszewski’s replacement was among the more surprising developments of training camp. Many expected the job to be given to third-round rookie cornerback Marcus Jones, who was a dominant punt returner during his collegiate career.
That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Jones sees his first punt-return opportunity as soon as this Sunday when the Patriots visit Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.