FOXBORO -- If you go by career numbers, Julian Edelman is the most productive punt returner in the NFL right now.
He may not be the same threat to take it to the house as, say, Chicago's Devin Hester. But, believe it or not, Edelman's career yards per return average (12.8) is better than Hester's (12.2).
It's better than anyone's, ever, except for three guys -- Jim Cason (14.1), Dick Christy (13.5) and Billy Grimes (13.3) -- who played before the AFL-NFL merger.
Though Edelman has three punt returns for touchdowns in his career, one of the reasons his average is so good is that he's not looking to wow on every touch.
"My job as the punt returner, and as a unit, is to get the ball into the offense's hands in good field position," Edelman said. "Take your chances when you can, but be smart back there. There's going to be opportunities eventually. You don't have to hit a home run every time. Singles are good."
Edelman got a chance to flash his natural open-field ability in the second quarter of a 30-27 loss to the Jets last week when he fielded a punt at the New England 34-yard line and juked about four different Jets would-be tacklers en route to a 38-yard return.
His shiftiness and vision can't really be taught, but Edelman explained on Thursday that big returns aren't simply the product of running to open space on Sundays. The formula is something close to equal parts preparation (i.e. film study) and athleticism.
"It's probably a little bit of both," Edelman said. "You know [the punter's] direction, which way he likes to go with the tendencies, by the field position, if you're going to get one off and all that kind of stuff."
Edelman continued to list the elements of punts that will help determine how they are returned: "The trajectory of the punt, if the coverage is going to be there fast, or if you're close pinned to the sideline, where you have to set it and all that kind of stuff.
"It's definitely a bang-bang play, but you can prepare yourself to the fullest of your ability to go out there and be most prepared to naturally move to the play."
Edelman and the Patriots return unit will see one of the strongest legs in the league on Sunday in Miami's Brandon Fields. The Dolphins punter leads the NFL in yards per punt (44.9) and net yards per punt (44.1). His long punts may be difficult for his teammates to cover, though. Returners are averaging 9.9 yards per return, which is the eighth-highest return average in the NFL.
Might that mean opportunities for big returns from Edelman this weekend?
"He's definitely got a strong right leg, and he can boom it down there," Edelman said of Fields. "Hopefully we'll get some opportunities, and we just gotta be prepared to take advantage of those opportunities. They've got a covering team that's been doing pretty well so we'll see how that goes."