FOXBORO — Gunner Olszewski was a cornerback at Bemidji State before he came to the NFL. Division II Bemidji State.
He’d prefer you not bring that up to him.
“I’m done with the DB stuff,” he said Sunday.
Fine. Fair enough. We won’t ask about the DB stuff or the difficulty in transitioning from offense to defense or from D-II to N F & L.
But here’s the thing. Gunner Olszewski, 2019 novelty act, has transformed himself enough in one year so that he doesn’t look like an 18-year-old who might snap in two if he gets hit the wrong way.
He doesn’t look like someone learning the stutters and steps and breaks. He’s filled out a lot. He’s got power in his routes and his feet are stupid fast.
He looks like every bit the part of competent NFL receiver. Except for one thing: sometimes he doesn’t catch it.
By sometimes I don’t mean “a lot.” I mean often enough to where you find yourself saying, “He’s gotta have that one,” once or twice each practice.
Last Tuesday, the Patriots were running a two-minute drill and were trying to pick up a fourth-and-5. Cam Newton — dealing with some chaos — threw low to Olszewski who dove but had the pass ricochet off his forearms, then his chest then onto the ground. On one of the first days of camp, a bootlegging Newton threw high to Olszewski on the sideline in traffic. He didn’t come up with it. On Sunday, there were a couple more “”Gotta have that one…” instances.
They weren’t layups. They were tough catches. But those are the catches that Olszewski is going to be counted on to make if he becomes a key part of this offense. Which he very well may.
During a fairly long video conference with media Sunday afternoon, Olszewski didn’t seem taken aback when asked about some of the drops.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he responded when asked if he was “pressing.”
“It’s just focusing,” he said. “Any receiver in the National Football League can obviously catch the football. It comes down to doing it day in and day out. It really just boils down to focusing on the ball and seeing the catch all the way to the end. That’s something that’s easy to fix and bit of an annoyance to everybody when it happens, obviously. I think it’s just you got to focus day in and day out. It’s just focusing. That’s it.”
Here's the thing — and it’s not my job to make excuses for ol’ Gunner, but whatever — it doesn’t matter that he’s been doing this a year. Most other guys have been doing it since middle school at that position when they get to the NFL.
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You can bring up Julian Edelman or Antwaan Randle-El as examples of guys who made the switch from another spot to wideout and did fine. But those were former quarterbacks. That matters. Olszewski is going from a position where his job was knocking down passes to now soft-handing them in. And he’s seeing Major League football fastballs. Really, it’s not a surprise that some of them get up on him pretty quickly.
I asked Olszewski is there any receiver he’s tried to borrow from to help him make the transition.
“When I first got here, I wanted to be just like the Patriots greats like Troy Brown or Julian, but I learned quick that everybody moves differently and some stuff works for other people that don’t for other people,” he said.
“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.’ So, not really, but obviously I see stuff that he does or other guys on our team like Mo Sanu does and I try to take bits and pieces. For the most part everybody is different with how they move so it’s just figuring it out for yourself a little bit.”
Funny he should say that, because that’s something a few in the media have observed. There are some instances where it seems Olszewski is moving too fast, too sudden. And the ball can handcuff him.
It’s all moved pretty fast for Olszewski to this point. This step, though, putting everything away is both the hardest and the most important. He’s got to earn full confidence from the guy throwing to him.
“We’re receivers,” he said. “It’s ‘throw me the ball and I’ll catch it.’ That’s the relationship you try to build with the quarterbacks. It’s definitely something we can improve on. We’re leaving catches out there — contested catches. Yeah, that’s the mentality you have to have as a receiver, you throw it and I’ll catch it. Quarterbacks have to trust in you. All us receivers, we’re working on that with our quarterbacks and hoping they can trust us.”