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New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski runs with the ball during an NFL football training camp practice, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, Pool)

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

It’s pretty rare for Bill Belichick to praise a specific player when asked to do so by the media. But then again, seemingly everything about Gunner Olszewski’s time with the Patriots so far has been unusual.

A former D-II All-American corner who was the 90th man signed to the 90-man roster last season, the Bemidji State product was the surprise of the preseason as he made the roster over established veteran Demaryius Thomas. After playing mostly on special teams to start the season (he recorded two catches for 34 yards), the 23-year-old was placed on IR in November.

In his return to the field in this year’s training camp, Olszewski has been turning heads for his play at the receiver position. And that’s not just limited to the media.

“Gunner has improved tremendously, both physically and from a football standpoint,” said Belichick when asked specifically about No. 80 Friday morning. “He’s a smart kid, he works extremely hard. He tough, he’s just very, very competitive. He’s here to learn how to do a lot of different things for us, and he continues to work on things that will expand his opportunities.”

Those comments make it sound like Belichick has long-term plans in mind for Olszewski, who many see as fighting for a roster spot with Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Devin Ross, and Jeff Thomas.

MORE: Devin Ross’ has ideal mental approach for camp

“So it will be interesting to watch him take advantage – try to take advantage of those opportunities and watch him play and see how all of that is coming together,” Belichick continued. “But his overall background, knowledge, understanding of being a professional athlete – training, some of his fundamental athletic skills, he’s refined those quite a bit. He’s much, much, much further ahead that where he was last year.”

With Julian Edelman seemingly banged up early on in camp, the chances for Olszewski, who played a slot role in his limited offensive action last year, could be big early on in the season. We’ll see if his hot start in camp translates to game action come September.

For more Patriots training camp coverage, check back in regularly with 985TheSportsHub.com.

Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com