FOXBORO, Mass. — Sony Michel is receiving plenty of guidance as he navigates his first NFL training camp, and not just from the New England Patriots’ coaching staff.
James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden — all are helping the first-round draft pick adjust to the pro game, with White in particular taking on a mentorship role.
“The Patriots have some great backs,” Michel said after Sunday’s training camp practice. “I’m actually getting a chance to learn from one of them — James White — and many more. Brandon, Rex — a lot of guys in that room, I get to learn from, and I think that’s pretty cool.”
New England drafted Michel 31st overall this year — their earliest running back selection since Laurence Maroney in 2006 — and with that lofty draft status comes high expectations. Michel put up gaudy stats as a senior at Georgia (1,227 rushing yards, 7.9 yards per carry) while splitting time with 2018 second-round pick Nick Chubb, and many are looking at him to replace former Patriot Dion Lewis, who was one of the NFL’s best all-around backs over the second half of last season.
White’s advice to the 23-year-old rookie? Don’t try to learn everything at once.
“You try to help him as much as you can,” White said. “Try not to throw too much at him, but help him here and there after each rep, just coach him up a little bit on the side. But you don’t want to give him too much at one time so he can just go out there and play fast. It’s just football at the end of the day. Just take your coaching points, and once you’re out there, just go out there and play fast. Play football.”
If his first few camp practices are any indication, the Patriots have big plans for Michel. He’s received significant reps with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills and had one of the standout plays of the day Sunday, catching a screen pass from Tom Brady and weaving his way down the field for a touchdown.
(Michel already sounds like a Patriot, too. Asked after practice about the play and the huge cheer it drew from the thousands of fans in attendance, the youngster gave credit to his blockers for “executing their jobs.”)
It hasn’t been all roses for the former Georgia star, though. Ball security has been a bit of an issue for him thus far, as it was in college, when he averaged one fumble in every 54.8 touches. Michel greatly improved in that regard over his four years in Athens (just two fumbles as a senior after 10 over his first three seasons) but has put the ball on the field multiple times during the handful of Patriots practices that have been open to the media.
On Saturday, he had the ball knocked out of his hands during 11-on-11s, resulting in a punishment lap around the practice field.
“Ball security is important in football, period,” Michel said Sunday. “No matter what position you play, in the game of football, ball security is very important.”
But despite these few rookie mistakes, Patriots fans should be very excited about what Michel can bring to the team this season. His teammates certainly are.
“He’s a great kid,” Burkhead said. “He’s got a lot of talent, and it’s been fun to work with him. He’s a humble kid, not coming in with a lot of rah-rah talking. He’s just coming in, head down, doing his job.”
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Image
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