FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered an update Friday on the status of rookie running back Sony Michel, who has yet to play in his first game at the NFL level.
Michel remained limited in practice this week with a knee injury he suffered Aug. 1, but Belichick said he’s seen steady improvement from the first-round draft pick.
“He’s better every day,” Belichick said. “He missed a lot of plays in training camp, in the training camp practices. He’s gotten more of a chance to be involved in those more recently. Each time he runs one, he sees something a little different or reacts a little bit quicker or whatever it is and just gains more confidence by doing something double-digit times instead of just a couple times. He’s reacting quicker and being more decisive.”
Since tackling is frowned upon in Patriots practice, Michel has taken few legitimate hits since the College Football Playoff national championship in January. The Georgia product sat out all four of New England’s preseason games and was inactive for last Sunday’s Week 1 win over the Houston Texans.
Michel’s lack of contact doesn’t concern Belichick, though. He’s more worried about the young back’s mental development.
“I think that’s pretty much the case for a lot of running backs,” Belichick said. “You see a lot of running backs don’t carry the ball much in preseason. Now, those guys have carried the ball a lot at other points — maybe in previous years. Like (New York Giants rookie Saquon) Barkley, how many times did he carry it in preseason?”
(Answer: Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, carried the ball just four times in the preseason, totaling 43 yards.)
“Look, that’s something that those guys have to deal with, and they’ve dealt with it a lot,” Belichick continued. “Sony’s had a lot of carries. He’s been hit a lot. Does he have to get used to it happening to him again? Yeah, of course. But I’d say the bigger part of it for him is the offense, the assignments, the decision-making, the timing of the blocking, timing of his running with the blocking patterns and so forth. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to do a lot of live work in practice, so he’ll have to get it during the game.”
Having Michel available this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a major boost for the Patriots, who lost running back Jeremy Hill to a season-ending torn ACL last weekend. Rex Burkhead also has been limited in practice this week with a concussion, and neither James White nor the recently signed Kenjon Barner is a between-the-tackles threat.
If neither Michel nor Burkhead are fully healthy, the Patriots could opt to promote either Ralph Webb or Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad ahead of Sunday’s game.
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