FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For NFL rookies, the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend can easily be described with one word.
“It was a rollercoaster of emotions,” WR Jakobi Meyers remarked Sunday.
“Rollercoaster, yeah. Ups and downs,” grinned WR/return specialist Gunner Olszewski. “It ended on an up. So, I’m happy to be here. Fun day. I ended up being a Patriot.”
On the weekend of the NFL Draft in April, young players like Meyers and Olszewski wait around for their phones to ring. Labor Day Weekend is just the opposite. No news is good news, when it comes to the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline for NFL teams to trim their 90-man rosters down to 53.
Neither Meyers nor Olszewski was drafted, but eventually got calls to come to Foxborough. Meyers said he spent this past Saturday talking to family members, who kept his mind occupied while he waited for the phone NOT to ring.
“It started off rough, watching guys I came in with get cut, see their dream get shattered. So, that kind of hurt,” Meyers acknowledged. “Then the waiting game, I’m starting to feel like I don’t know what’s going on. Then not getting the call, I felt the ups of it. The ones who didn’t get their chance, I still pray for them… but I’ve got to take advantage of my opportunity.”
For Olszewski, an Alvin, Texas native who started out this spring on a tryout basis before being invited back to training camp, it truly was a day of ups and downs. He first received word from the team that he didn’t make the cut, but later, the club traded CB Keion Crossen to Houston, thus opening up a spot for Olszewski. So, he got a second call. He was watching college football with Patriots rookie punter Jake Bailey at the time.
“It was the best phone call of my life, man! It was awesome. Put a smile right on my face,” Olszewski continued.
“I was excited for him, and he was pretty excited himself,” Bailey told reporters. “We weren’t super yelling or anything. Just kind of quiet excitement, you know?”
Bailey and rookie QB Jarrett Stidham both made the final roster after beating out more established NFL veterans in Ryan Allen and Brian Hoyer, respectively. Saturday wasn’t quite an anxious day for either Bailey or Stidham, since Allen was released a couple of weeks ago and Stidham, a 2019 draft choice, was likely to earn a backup job to Tom Brady – either second- or third-string – whether Hoyer remained or not.
However, both players were complimentary of their former teammates and competitors.
“I can’t speak highly enough about Brian. He really helped me a ton,” Stidham revealed. “especially when I first got here in OTAs and minicamp. He was here every day for me and helping in every way he could. He’s a true veteran, a true pro. I couldn’t be more thankful for him.”
“I enjoyed getting to know Ryan,” added Bailey. “He’s an awesome guy. He pushed me in a lot of different ways. I’m happy I got to know him. It’s been a really nice time with the Patriots so far.”
“So far” may be the operative words for young players like these. While they’re all clearly elated to be part of the Patriots at this point, none of them is taking their good fortune for granted.
“I still can’t breathe,” Meyers admitted. “I still have to come in here every day and feel like my job is on the line, honestly, because it is.”
“This is obviously a huge opportunity for me, but the work’s not done,” Stidham stated. “Very excited for this role, obviously, getting back to work, working as hard as I ever have, trying to do everything I can to help out this team and to help Tom out.”
“I was just happy to know I had a job. I’m ready to go to work,” declared Olszewski. “Yeah, I’m here man, it’s sunk in. It has to sink in. I’ve got to go practice. I have a job to do now. So, I don’t really have time to sit there and think about it like, ‘Wow, I’m an NFL player.’ You know, I have a job, now… I’m hoping to keep that job.
“Those five hours [in between phone calls] felt like about 24, but it ended on a high note, so, it was all worth it. It doesn’t matter how it happened. What happened is, I’m a Patriot. I’m proud to be here.”
Russ in a Rush
New Patriots center Russ Bodine hasn’t been in Foxborough very long. The 27-year-old was traded from Buffalo Saturday, reportedly for a future sixth-round Patriots draft choice, and is eager to dive into his new playbook.
With David Andrews, a returning starter and co-captain, out for the season due to a reported medical condition, the Patriots must fill his considerable shoes. Incumbent Ted Karras has experience in New England’s offense, but Bodine, who’s started 74 NFL games since entering the league in 2014, could eventually challenge Karras as Andrews’ fill-in this season.
“Everybody’s goal is to be out there playing,” Bodine conceded Sunday following his first Patriots practice. “My goal is to get here and get caught up on the system as fast as I can, do what I can to contribute. Obviously, a little bit of similarity with [former Patriots assistant coach Brian] Daboll being offensive coordinator over there [in Buffalo]. Hopefully, [I’ll learn] as fast as possible.”
Bodine said he was somewhat surprised to hear he’d been dealt to New England, but that he’s now “full steam ahead” to learn this offense and get comfortable working with Brady.
“Yeah, we took a couple [snaps at practice],” added Bodine. “He was more than helpful. I just told him anything he needs from me, let me know. Don’t be afraid to tell me.”
New England’s first 53-man roster iteration of 2019 enjoyed perfect attendance at Sunday’s full-pads practice, their first as a newly-formed group. Eight familiar faces who were released Saturday have cleared waivers and are now members of the practice squad. They were all in uniform for Sunday’s session: o-linemen Dan Skipper and rookie Tyree St. Louis, TE Stephen Anderson (wearing jersey 82), LBs Calvin Munson and rookie Terez Hall, d-linemen Ufomba Kamalu and Nick Thurman, and FB Jakob Johnson.
Normally, the Patriots would have room for just 10 players on the practice squad, as stipulated by NFL rules, but they have an exemption for an 11th this year as part of the league’s international development program. Johnson (Germany) is that player, meaning New England can add up to three more players for the practice squad.
According to a reporter in Indianapolis, a former Colts defensive end will occupy a ninth spot on the Patriots’ practice squad.
Green had a locker space assigned to him today. He'll be given jersey number 96.
The Patriots are currently scheduled to practice again on Labor Day, then take Tuesday off, which is normally when teams rest during the regular season.
A handful of Patriots have swapped out their former jersey numbers to come into compliance with the NFL’s rules regarding such matters. As linebackers aren’t allowed to wear single-digits during the regular season, Jamie Collins turned in his number 8 and was at practice Sunday wearing 58.
Rookie WR N’Keal Harry, who also wore 8 for half the summer (he was 50 to start training camp), is now in a more appropriate 15. Receivers can wear numbers in the teens and 80s.Fellow rookie pass catcher Gunner Olszewski is now on his third digit with the club. He began with 72, changed to 9, and as of today is sporting number 80, last worn by the aforementioned Anderson.
Newcomers on the offensive line have also traded their numbers, though mostly for personal preference, it would appear, as their prior numbers were in compliance. Jermaine Eluemunor wore 71 this past Thursday night in his debut with New England, but is now wearing the 65 that Korey Cunningham had on his jersey that same night. Cunningham is now donning the 74 previously owned by Cole Croston, who was released Saturday. Eluemunor and Cunningham arrived via trades with Baltimore and Arizona, respectively, this past Wednesday.
The number 66 worn formerly by James Ferentz is now in the possession of center Russell Bodine, the newly-acquired player from Buffalo. Meanwhile, rookie o-lineman Yodny Cajuste, who has been on the non-football injury list (NFI) since being drafted in April, has gone from 54 to 65 and is now listed as number 63. However, he remains on NFI to start the regular season and has yet to put on a uniform as a Patriot.
According to today’s NFL transaction wire, four players cut by New England Saturday are now elsewhere in the league. Divisional rivals Miami scooped up DE Trent Harris and rookie d-back Ken Webster, while the New York Jets claimed WR/return specialist Braxton Berrios. TE/FB Andrew Beck is on his way to the Denver Broncos.