FOXBOROUGH — Crammed in the back corner of the Patriots’ locker room are the stalls belonging to their 10 draft picks, each of whom has to share space with another rookie.
Soon, however, punter Jake Bailey will bid farewell to his stablemate, cornerback Ken Webster, and migrate to the front of the room, where he likely will assume the spot vacated by Ryan Allen, who was officially released on Tuesday. The new post would sandwich the 22-year-old Bailey between long snapper Joe Cardona and kicker Stephen Gostkowski — two essential members of New England’s special teams.
It’s unfamiliar territory for both Bailey, drafted with the 163rd overall pick in April, and Cardona, who will be snapping the ball to a punter other than Allen for the first time in his five-year career.
But Cardona is hopeful Bailey’s talent and attitude will facilitate a smooth transition.
“He’s a young kid that came in and was ready to learn, ready to receive coaching,” Cardona said Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium. “His professionalism in and out of the building has been really impressive. He obviously has done a good enough job to make an impression. I know he’s going to continue to work hard.”
Among Bailey’s strengths are his powerful leg and the hang time of his punts. Against the Titans on Saturday, he launched a free kick that traveled 67 yards and stayed in the air for more than five seconds. The kick was no anomaly, as his impressive hang time was on display as early as minicamp in June.
“He hits some big balls,” Cardona said.
The Stanford product also marks a bit of a rarity for coach Bill Belichick, whose penchant for left-footed punters has been well-documented. Bailey will be the first right-footed full-time punter in Belichick’s 20-year tenure with the Patriots.
“He’s got a unique skill set,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “You guys have seen him kick the ball, so hopefully we can continue to build on that moving forward and just take it day by day.”
Cardona, Slater, and Gostkowski all have been working to build chemistry with Bailey, while special teams coach Joe Judge and assistant Cam Achord have helped him adjust to the NFL. Another resource for Bailey throughout his acclimation to the pros? Allen himself.
“I mean, Ryan was such a professional in this whole process in helping Jake become a better, more refined punter,” Cardona said. “I don’t think there’s enough good to say about the guy.”
While there’s intrigue surrounding Bailey’s potential, there also was a level of sadness following Allen’s departure. Undrafted in 2013, Allen played six seasons in New England. One of his most memorable performances came in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams in February, when he landed three punts inside the 10-yard line.
Not only did teammates praise Allen’s performances, they also highlighted his sense of humor and laid-back demeanor.
“When you have a relationship with a guy, and spend a lot of time around him, and gone through life with him, it doesn’t make it easy,” Slater said. “I don’t care how long you’ve played this game, it’s a part of the game you never get used to, seeing friends come and go. Obviously, it’s difficult. As is the case with Ryan, it’s difficult to see him go.
“You can easily say, ‘Well, that’s the business.’ But you can’t forget the human side of this business, the relationships, the time that goes in, [and] the sacrifices that guys make.”