The Patriots have left a lot to be desired in their return game all season long, coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday.
“We’ve missed a lot of good opportunities on kickoff returns,” he said. “It’s been frustrating. Really in all eight games.”
Wide receiver Gunner Olszewski has become the team’s primary kick returner, but Belichick indicated that his criticisms are not directed at one individual.
Olszewski, who certainly does not lack energy, has returned 16 kicks, averaging 24.1 yards per return. Rookies J.J. Taylor and Kyle Dugger also earned a few reps earlier in the season, posting similar numbers.
Special teams coordinator Cam Achord has previously raved about Olszewski’s dogged approach to returning both kicks and punts.
“I love it,” Achord said in October. “I love his aggressive mentality that he brings to the game. He plays hard. I think, for him, that’s the only way he knows how to play. You know what you’re going to get every time he steps on the field.”
The Patriots rank ninth in the NFL in average yards per kick return (23.9) and fifth in total yards off kick returns (501). But their longest return — 33 yards by Olszewski — ranks 26th. There have been multiple instances in which Olszewksi has taken the ball out of the end zone only to get tackled before reaching the 25-yard line.
“We just haven’t gotten the production that has been there, the opportunities that have been there,” Belichick said.
Belichick didn’t point to anything specific that needs improvement.
“We’ve all had breakdowns somewhere along the line, and it just seems like we can’t quite hit it right,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things, and then there’s one or two problems on the play and that’s enough to kill the play. Really across the board. It’s not any one thing.”
The Patriots plan to place tight end Dalton Keene on injured reserve, ESPN reported Tuesday.
Keene missed Monday night’s game against the Jets with a knee injury, and did not travel with the team to the Meadowlands. He would join fellow rookie tight end Devin Asiasi on injured reserve.
Drafted in the third round out of Virginia Tech, Keene made his NFL debut in Week 7 against San Francisco and caught one pass for 8 yards. That is his only appearance this season.
With just one other tight end, Ryan Izzo, on the 53-man roster, the Patriots signed two to the practice squad, David Wells and Dylan Cantrell.
In another roster move, the Patriots waived rookie linebacker Cassh Maluia.
Maluia, a sixth-round pick out of Wyoming, appeared in six games this season, strictly on special teams. He did not play Monday night against the Jets.
If Maluia clears waivers, he will be eligible for the practice squad.
The team also released defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow off the practice squad.
Salute to a legend
During his weekly radio interview on WEEI, Belichick paid homage to Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn, who died Monday at age 86.
“What a tremendous career he had as a player and coach and even as a broadcaster,” Belichick said. “I think he had such a great connection to the entire Boston community, fan base and obviously Celtics fans, and you know, all the sports fans in Boston that connected to him as well as the Celtics. He was an awesome guy.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.