FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick has never hesitated to use his best players on special teams, and that's continued to be the case early on in Patriots training camp this summer.
Darrelle Revis has been spotted as a vice blocker alongside Devin McCourty for the punt-return unit. Brandon Browner got reps in that role as well. Revis even subbed in as a holder for Stephen Gostkowski to practice kickoffs in windy situations.
Julian Edelman, last year's top receiver in New England, continues to get repetitions as a punt returner -- and he hopes that doesn't change.
"I love returning punts," he said Sunday. "That's a part of the game that gave me an opportunity to make this team. I love returning punts. I love [special teams] coach [Scott] O'Brien. I love the scheme and all that stuff. I wanna do that. I'd love to do that. If they ask me to do it, I'm gonna do it with a smile on my face."
Edelman is one of the best in the game when it comes to taking back punts. In fact, his yards-per-return average (12.3) is tied with Devin Hester for the best career average of any player who came into the league after 1965. The logic behind having him in there for those plays is simple.
The argument against it is that more plays on the field -- especially special-teams plays, where players are running full speed and the collisions can be vicious -- means more opportunities to sustain an injury. Even the mundane special-teams plays aren't without their pitfalls; Rob Gronkowski broke his arm blocking for an extra point in 2012.
But the reward outweighs the risk in Belichick's eyes. A special teams coach with the Lions, Broncos and Giants early in his career, Belichick knows the value of having his best athletes on the field for a phase of the game that can decide outcomes on a week-to-week basis.
McCourty has played the vice role in years past with the Patriots, keeping gunners away from his punt returner. He's also played on the kickoff team and returned kickoffs as well. Like Edelman, he enjoys playing a role in the kicking game and wouldn't ask off just because he's an All-Pro quality starter on defense.
"I've done a lot of things on special teams since I've been here," McCourty said. "I've done [vice] whether I'm at corner or safety . . . It's pretty fun because usually you've got 2-on-1 out there. Usually we don't have that kind of advantage as a defensive back so I was joking on [gunner Matthew Slater] and asking him what he thought his chances were of going up against me and Revis when we were out there.
"It's just something that you've gotta work at. With Julian back deep, if we give him a chance, he's shown us he can score."
In New England, the worry is those chances become fewer and farther between with a unit made up entirely of second-stringers.