Patriots

Julian Edelman calls ex-Patriots teammate Malcolm Butler a 'stud' despite his 2018 struggles

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Julian Edelman calls ex-Patriots teammate Malcolm Butler a 'stud' despite his 2018 struggles

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler and Julian Edelman have had their battles over the years, but they typically came on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium. They'd often be the first in line for one-on-one drills, and they'd see each other in seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 periods.

When they aligned across from one another in training camp workouts, those were some of the most entertaining moments of camp. They didn't hold back, and if they locked horns at the line of scrimmage, you could hear it. Either their pads colliding or their mouths motoring.

"I love playing against him," Edelman said in the build-up to Super Bowl LI in 2017. "Just because of the sheer fact of how competitive and how serious he takes practice. I believe he's one of the premier corners in the league."

The pair may meet up again on Sunday when the Patriots head to Nashville. Yet if and when they meet, they'll be players trending in opposite directions.

Edelman had to miss the first four games of the regular season, but he's hit the ground running. He has 15 catches for 175 yards over his last two games, and he's taken four handoffs for 41 yards.

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Butler, meanwhile, could be playing for his job in some respects this weekend. He's statistically one of the worst corners in football this season. The Titans have played eight games in nine weeks after a Week 8 bye, yet he's still last in the league in catches allowed in coverage (39), touchdowns (seven) and yards (618). He hasn't started a game since Week 5.

Still, Edelman is expecting to see his former teammate at his best Sunday.

"Malcolm’s Malcolm," Edelman said Wednesday. "He’s a strong player who plays the ball well in the air. He’s gotten beat a couple times, but that’s the nature of his game. He’s a real aggressive player that competes, plays the ball well through your hands. He’s long, upper body.

"He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I got a lot of respect for Malcolm. He’s a hard player that competes, and his road to where he’s got shows how hard he works. He’s a stud.”

Butler's road led him to a five-year deal worth $61 million with Tennessee in the offseason. Though last season was his worst as a starter, the Titans clearly liked what they saw. His 2016 season, his second as a starter, was particularly impressive. Yet his on-the-field confidence stretched back much further.

Everyone knows the stories. As an undrafted free agent, he made plays on Tom Brady in practice day after day and frustrated the future Hall of Famer before anyone knew who Butler was -- before he had made the active roster.

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The next year, he built upon his big Super Bowl moment.

"Tom came back [the next season] and he was talking trash," Devin McCourty said in 2017, "telling him does he know what it means to be a Super Bowl MVP and never make any plays again? Malcolm went out there that practice, had four pass breakups, an interception and he let Tom know about it every single play."

Hard to imagine Butler will be saying much if Sunday goes the way Monday night went for him. He allowed eight catches for 108 yards and two scores, according to Pro Football Focus.

The better former Patriots corner on the roster might instead be Logan Ryan. Primarily a slot corner, Ryan has missed just two snaps in the last three games, and he could be called upon to run with Edelman.

"Logan’s a real instinctive football player that is fundamentally sound," Edelman said. "If you mess up with Logan, he’s going to run the route for you. That’s the kind of player he is. He’s a very cerebral-type guy that studies everyone, works hard, and the same can be said with Malc. These guys, they’re good football players, really good football players. They showed it here, and they’re showing it now. You can’t mess up with them.”

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Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

The New England Patriots have had an unsettled receiver room for most of the 2019 season. At one time, it seemed like they had one of the best groups in the league. But the release of Antonio Brown and the team's decision to trade Demaryius Thomas left them a bit weaker at the position. And in recent weeks, they have been thin at the position due to injuries.

Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle), and Julian Edelman (chest) have all been dealing with various maladies over the course of the first six weeks of the season. Additionally, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry has been on IR since just after the team's final cuts.

With these absences, some unexpected contributors have been able to step up. And one of them is Gunner Olszewski. The undrafted rookie out of Bemidji State has earned a big role as a return man and has recently seen an increase in offensive action. And so far, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with his energy and effort.

"Gunner works really hard," Belichick told reporters at Saturday's media availability. "He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch – he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can’t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we’ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he’s a good, hard worker."

Of course, hard work is only part of the equation. In the Patriots' offense, it's important to have chemistry with Tom Brady. Has Olszewski done enough to earn Brady's trust so far?

"Yeah, definitely," Brady said when asked about his level of trust in Olszewski. "I think they’re – like I said, those guys are – when you’re young, you gain trust in practice, and a lot of it’s doing the right thing over and over and over again. Those guys are working at it. I mean, they’ve been here a short period of time, so try to get as many reps as you can and talk about things. You get coached up, and any young player, they’re trying to earn the trust of the coach and the players every day."

This is seemingly the most positive Brady has felt about his young receiving weapons this year. Perhaps the team's success against the New York Giants despite being limited to only one formation because of their lack of healthy personnel had an impact on Brady. And maybe that helped him to become more confidence in Olszewski and fellow undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Either way, Brady will likely have to look Olszewski's way a bit more than usual on Monday night against the New York Jets. Josh Gordon is out for the game and so too are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. That should afford Olszewski a good opportunity to make his presence felt.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Week 7 Preview>>>

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

The Patriots have had one game in which there was even a shred of doubt about the outcome into the fourth quarter. And even then, did anyone figure the Bills were going to score? Exactly.

But Monday night at MetLife the Patriots could get their second decent challenge of the season.

Despite their 1-4 record, the Jets just got capable quarterback Sam Darnold back and his presence made a huge difference in the team’s win over Dallas last week. As for the Patriots offense, which isn’t working at optimal potency, the Jets did a nice job against the Patriots in the first meeting between the teams after New England walked through them on their first three drives.

With 11 days to prepare for this, Josh McDaniels is sure to have hatched something to get Gregg Williams’ defense off-balance. But the Patriots are still hamstrung on offense by their personnel so this one could turn into a slugfest.

Click here for Tom E. Curran's full Week 7 Patriots preview>>>