Entering the preseason opener last Thursday, Myles Bryant had a grand total of zero punt returns on both his NFL and his college résumé. And yet, the New England Patriots gave the third-year defensive back an opportunity versus the New York Giants.
Bryant did not look out of place, quite the opposite actually: the 24-year-old had returns of 30 and 16 yards, finishing with an impressive 23-yard average.
Not bad for a player who had not played the position in seven years.
“2015?” he wondered when asked about his last punt return after the game. “My senior year of high school. My last game of high school.”
Nonetheless, Bryant believes his early-career experiences have stuck with him.
“Growing up I was a running back. In Pop Warner, that’s what I did, all the way growing up,” he said. “I feel like it just sticks with you, just having the ball, it’s kind of a second nature.”
Following a four-year career at the University of Washington, Bryant joined the Patriots as an undrafted rookie in 2020. Despite his status, he was able to see some semi-regular action in both of his first two years as a pro.
In total, Bryant took the field in a combined 22 regular season and playoff games and registered a pair of interceptions as well as one forced fumble and one sack. He did not, however, return any kicks. And yet, the Patriots’ coaching staff led by special teams coordinator Cam Achord saw something in him worth building on.
“They thought they saw a quickness doing other things and I think they thought it would translate to that,” he said. “I’m just trying to have them make the right decisions.”
Bryant also credits wide receivers/kick returners coach Troy Brown in helping him make the transition into a more prominent special teams role.
“I did a little bit of it during OTAs, just catching it and learning,” Bryant said. “We have a great coach, a guy named Troy Brown, you guys might have heard of him. He’s taught me everything I know about it so far and I’m looking forward to learning a lot more. Of course he showed us clips [of him]. He puts his own highlight reel on. Rightfully so.”
Achord and Brown had confidence in Bryant’s abilities to succeed as a punt returner, and the results speak for themselves so far. While preseason performance always has to be taken with a grain of salt, and the return game as a whole is dependent on factors beyond one individual player, the Patriots can feel good about what they have seen so far.
Just ask head coach Bill Belichick, who mentioned Bryant during a media conference call the day after the game versus New York.
“He’s shown a good ability to track and catch the ball,” Belichick said. “We know Myles has good quickness and he is a good decision maker, which is a lot in that position. Made a couple of nice plays last night, so he’s worked hard for that opportunity, earned it and then did something with it. All really encouraging things, but I mean, that’s kind of typical of Myles. That’s kind of the way he is and the kid he is.
“He’s a very diligent, hard-working kid that always gives you his best efforts, a smart instinctive football player and he’s had a lot of different roles for us defensively and again, grown into those. ... He’s evolved into a very versatile player for us on defense and in the kicking game and he took advantage of an opportunity last night.”
While it remains to be seen whether or not Bryant can carve out a role in what appears to be a very competitive cornerback room, his kicking game contributions might just help him make the roster yet again.