By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Gunner Olszewski got himself into living rooms around the country two weeks ago when he turned in an electric performance against the Chargers. In that game, he returned one punt for a touchdown, returned another punt more than 60 yards, and hauled in a touchdown pass. To football fans in America who don’t follow the Patriots on a day-to-day basis, it was likely their introduction to the unique man known as Gunner.
Yet while that performance was the standout, it was merely the peak of a consistent build for Olszewski. The second-year special teamer out of Division II Bemidji State averaged a healthy 16.2 yards per return on his six chances from Weeks 4-12, a number that has since spiked to 20.6 since that showing in L.A. That’s a massive upgrade from his 9.0-yard average on his 20 punt returns as a rookie.
Olszewski’s received plenty of praise from his coaches and teammates for putting in work to improve, but Olszewski himself was quick to give credit for his development to Patriots legend Troy Brown.
“He’s back there with me every step of the way, in practice and even in pregame. Every punt I catch, Troy’s standing right behind me, saying all the things he’s been saying since training camp,” Olszewski said on Wednesday. “‘Get under the ball, look it all the way in, tuck it away.’ All these things. So when I go back there in a game, my eyes are on Troy. He kind of gives me a call, and then when I line up, I can still kind of hear his voice when that ball gets punted in the air: ‘get under it, look it all the way in.’ It’s the small things that really make those big returns happen. You know, you can’t start until you catch it. So he’s been a huge help, and having somebody like that that I can just go talk to is obviously huge.”
Olszewski added: “Every step of the way — practice, games, pregame. So yeah, he’s the man.”
Brown, a three-time Super Bowl champion as a receiver and punt returner for the Patriots from 1993-2007, joined the Patriots’ coaching staff in 2019 in an NFL minority coaching fellowship position. For the 2020 season, he was named running backs, kick returners coach. With running backs, he’s working under longtime running backs coach Ivan Fears. But with the returners, Brown is able to impart his wisdom on any Patriots player asked to return a kick.
Considering Brown is the Patriots’ franchise all-time leader with 2,625 punt return yards and delivered the most important punt return in Patriots history, and considering he ranks ninth in franchise history with 1,862 kick return yards, he’s got plenty of wisdom to share. (Bill Belichick also said during the summer that Brown would spend some time working with slot receivers, too; Brown ranks fifth in franchise history in receiving yards.)
Sometimes that teaching is delivered in the form of a fundamental reminder. Other times it’s a bit more complex. Still other times, it involves some old-fashioned discipline.
“One of the things I appreciate from Troy really is like [Wednesday] during practice, I dropped a punt, and I took a lap. Just like I did in training camp, and just like I did as a rookie before I even caught a punt,” Olszewski said. “Now, you know, I’ve had some success. Him still making me do something like that, I respect it. It keeps me going the way that I want to go. So stuff like that, that’s the kind of guy Troy is.”