By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
“Catching a football is an art.” Many former NFL, college, even high school players will tell you that. Just like any other art, if you want to master it, you need to put in time, energy, focus, etc.
For Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, it’s an art form he is in many ways new to. For four years at Bemidji State, Olszewski’s main objective was to stop the catching of footballs, as an All-American cornerback. It was only after signing with the Patriots last may that he moved to the other sign of the line of scrimmage.
Last season was of course a transitional one for the Alvin, Texas native. Olszewski played just over six-percent of the Patriots offensive snaps, while mainly serving as the punt returner (something he was also named an All-American for in college) before being placed on IR in November.
Now in his second year and part of a team that needs a receiver to step up in a big way, Olszewski looks ready to accept a larger role on offense. By all accounts, he’s gotten stronger and more refined as a route runner. The final step he needs to complete the puzzle? Catch the ball with more consistency.
About his drops after practice on Sunday, Olszewski said “[Catching the ball] 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.”
Olszewski has seen first hand that it can in fact be easy to fix. After all, the Patriots have another wide receiver who struggled with drops early in his career after changing positions, but ended up doing okay for himself.
In his second year in the NFL, Julian Edelman dropped a staggering 28.6-percent of catchable passes thrown his way. Some observers often bemoan the college quarterback’s supposed brick hands, and he did lead the NFL in drops in 2019 (13).
However, when you put those numbers into context, he’s actually been pretty sure handed throughout most of his career. The high number of drops is due to the volume of targets he receivers in the Patriots offense; and his drop percentage is usually around the league average.
Proper catching techniques are usually ingrained at the college or high school level, if not earlier. Most of what NFL coaches work on in that vein is refinement, not teaching. So for players like Olszewski and Edelman who never received that kind of football education, they have to learn on the fly and in their own time.
Edelman managed to not only learn, but become one of the best receivers of his era. Can Olszewski follow suit? Asked about it on Sunday, Olszewski said, “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. 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.'”
What works for Olszewski sounds like a puzzle-piece approach. “Obviously I see stuff that the Jules or other guys on our team like Mo Sanu does and I try to take bits and pieces,” he hold reporters.
Boiled down to a simple mentality, Olszewski explained, “It’s ‘throw me the ball and I’ll catch it’…That’s the mentality you have to have as a receiver, you throw it and I’ll catch it.”
How much will Olszewski “catch it” this season? We’ll find out soon, with the season opener just two weeks away.
For everything Patriots between now and then, including roster projections, be sure to check back in with 985TheSportsHub.com.