Six summers ago, Ryan Allen was a young upstart, undrafted, looking to unseat veteran punter Zoltan Mesko. Allen eventually succeeded and now has three Super Bowl rings as a Patriot.
This past offseason, he tested free agency for the first time, and it wasn't a guarantee he'd return to Foxborough. It took a while before he ended up re-signing with New England.
"Yeah, it goes by, depending on how you look at it, sometimes it feels like it goes fast, sometimes slow," Allen remarked about his seven-year NFL career. "Whatever spectrum you're looking through – offseason or during the season. But it's been a blessing, man.
"I'm happy to be back here. That was just my first time going through the free agency process. That's kind of the way it goes. You have to weigh your options… but I'm happy to be back here and that's what I'm focused on now."
Today, the kicking shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Allen is now the established incumbent, while 2019 draft choice Jake Bailey is attempting to dethrone him. This marks the second consecutive summer that the Patriots have brought in a young punter to challenge Allen, yet, he maintains that he's okay with the competition.
"I've always been a realistic person," Allen explained. "There are going to be people coming in and competing for your job. Most positions do that every single year. It's not out of the ordinary, not out of the blue. That's the reason probably why they're very good here and have been very good for so long, because there's no emotional attachment. Business is business. It's like a family here, but at the same time, it's treated like a very professional business. So, it's not surprising."
Check out the best photos from Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019.
In the preseason opener at Detroit last week, Allen yielded to the rookie Bailey during the first half, but wound up punting three times in the second half. Bailey, however, also kicked off throughout the game.
During Monday's practice, the two punters alternated reps during the first special teams period, but Bailey later took snaps at the holder for placekicker Stephen Gostkowski, a responsibility Allen has had since winning the punting job in 2013. If there's any handwriting on the wall for Allen, he's not allowing it to affect his everyday attitude at work or toward his young challenger, Bailey.
"This business is strictly business," he continued. "It seems like it's even more so here. Listen, they like guys they've got to cut. I'll never forget, when I was younger, Logan Mankins – they traded him to Tampa like a week before [the regular season], and that was the moment I was like, 'They're trying to put the best team out there possible, and that's their job.' Our job is not to worry about that stuff. Our job is to do our job on the field and do it well, and you're probably going to have a job. If it's not here, it's somewhere else. That's maturity.
"Jake's outspoken, a good guy to be around. As of right now, we're all wearing the same jersey. We have to push each other to get better and things will fall in line for both of us. Everybody's got to go out there and perform… There should be a level of maturity there to work together and push one another to where we're both efficient [punters]. You just want to be ready to go when the regular season starts. If both of us can push one another to be consistent and refined and ready to go, it's just going to be good for both of us. I look at it that way."
Brandon Bolden has been on a roll lately. Last Thursday in Detroit, the veteran ball carrier got the start in New England's backfield and played significant minutes on offense. Normally, he's assigned special teams duties.
Monday after practice, he continued his hot streak during post-practice remarks to the media, with several quips that drew laughter from the assembled media corps.
"As long as my wife's saying I can go out there and play, I'm going to keep playing," the eighth-year player insisted. "I just want to play football – whether it's at running back, they can put me at safety, they can put me at linebacker, they can put me at kicker if they want to try. I can't kick worth a lick, but if they want me to try it, I'll go out there and try it."
Bolden originally entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Patriots back in 2012. After six years in Foxborough, Bolden played for AFC East rivals Miami last season when the Patriots cut him at the end of training camp. Last December, Bolden enjoyed a memorable day against his old teammates in what became known as the Miami Miracle game, but today, he feigned ignorance of that afternoon's events, when he scored twice, including a 54-yard jaunt.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he professed with a playful grin. "I woke up and everybody was like, 'Oh, great game.' And I was like, 'I was in bed.' Nah, I wasn't at that game. Somebody wore my jersey."
In a serious response to why he decided to come back to New England, Bolden explained, "Bill [Belichick] has his recipe of spells in that book he has, and he does whatever he wants, and it works. You come in as a young guy and it's like, 'Ah, he doesn't know what he's talking about,' but he's been coaching for 40-plus years for a reason.
"I missed it here. Missed the guys, missed the coaches, I miss you guys [in the media], actually, as annoying as you guys are," he added with a laugh. "'Welcome back' was the first song I played, the first 15 minutes I was back in [the Gillette Stadium locker room]. It was kind of great. We had all the guys join in."
Buy: Isaiah Wynn – The Patriots have been easing their 2018 first-round draft choice into training camp this summer as the left tackle is a year removed from an Achilles heel injury. Monday, however, Wynn added to his workload at practice by taking his most significant reps all summer, both in drills and team periods, and acquitted himself well throughout.
Sell: Matt LaCosse – After leaving the Lions game prematurely with what looked like a leg injury of some kind, the veteran free agent tight end was not at practice Monday. Meanwhile, the team reportedly swung a trade for another veteran tight end, which might not be a promising sign for LaCosse's long-term availability.
Play of the Day: Veteran free agent receiver Maurice Harris made a tremendous catch from QB Tom Brady deep downfield during 11-on-11 action. Harris was closely guarded by CB Stephon Gilmore, but did a nice job of adjusting his body to out-maneuver Gilmore for the ball in the air and complete the big gain.