Gunner Olszewski and Julian Edelman have been down the same road. Both entered the NFL without a clear position, and eventually found a spot on the New England Patriots’ roster due to their abilities in the return game and shiftiness at the wide receiver position.
But while Edelman turned into one of the most prolific pass catchers in the league, Olszewski is still trying to make a name for himself on offense entering Year 3. The lessons learned from his former teammate — Edelman announced his retirement earlier this offseason — should help him do just that.
What are they exactly? During a conference call with the New England media on Thursday, Olszewski spoke about the impact Edelman had on him during their two seasons together. Well, he tried to.
“I don’t think I can put it into words,” Olszewski said. “He took me under his wing, me and Jakobi [Meyers] both — kind of being underdog receivers. Kobs was a former quarterback, and me, I didn’t play receiver, so he kind of showed us the ropes.”
A former college quarterback, Edelman joined the Patriots as a seventh-round draft pick in 2009. Over the next 12 seasons, his contributions to the team grew from serving as one of the league’s elite punt returns to become the team’s most reliable and productive wide receiver as well as a three-time champion and one-time Super Bowl MVP.
If Olszewski’s eventual career path is just slightly similar, the Patriots can feel very good about signing the former Bemidji State defensive back as a rookie free agent in 2019. At least from the special teams perspective, Olszewski appears to be on a good way already: he was voted first-team All-Pro in 2020 — an honor that eluded Edelman throughout his career — after leading the NFL with 17.3 yards gained per punt return.
In order to also leave his mark as a wide receiver, though, Olszewski will need to make an Edelmanesque jump. He will have to do so without the veteran as a mentor, though.
“It sucks,” Olszewski said about Edelman’s retirement due to chronic knee problems. “But I know how he is. He wants to be at his best out there, and if he doesn’t feel like he can do that, he doesn’t even want to be out there. He’s the ultimate competitor, and that’s what I learned from him. Toughest dude I’ve ever played with.”
This toughness is not the only thing that Olszewski will remember about Edelman, though. He also mentioned two phrases he apparently liked to share with the young receivers on New England’s roster.
“Two words: piss and vinegar,” he said. “That’s what that dude was all about. I don’t know if I can say that on here, but those are the two things that I’ll never forget. Oh, and I’ve got two more: competitive stamina. That was his other, that was his other one. I’m sure you’ve all heard that before. Those two things are stuck in there and written down in concrete.”
Entering his third season in the program, Olszewski is again the frontrunner to serve as New England’s punt returner. In order to also help replace Edelman’s contributions on offense, meanwhile, he will have to compete against offseason additions Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Tre Nixon, as well as returning vets N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Isaiah Zuber, Kristian Wilkerson and Devin Smith.
If the past decade has taught us one thing, however, it is to never count out players adhering to Edelman’s “piss and vinegar” principles. Gunner Olszewski is one of them.