FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick didn’t play coy Thursday when asked about New England Patriots running back Damien Harris.
Belichick, who rarely shares specifics about a given player’s projected role in training camp, said Harris is competing to be the New England Patriots’ No. 1 back after his breakout 2020 season.
“I think Damien’s a player that improved a lot from Year 1 to Year 2,” Belichick said before the Patriots’ second training camp practice. “This year, he’s in a little different role. Now he has an opportunity to compete for a lead spot, and he’s embraced that.”
Harris isn’t just in the running for that role — he’s the clear favorite. After essentially redshirting as a rookie, the 2019 third-round draft pick emerged as New England’s top ball-carrier last season, finishing with 691 yards over 10 games and averaging 5.0 yards per carry. That average ranked in the top 10 among qualified NFL rushers.
Though his durability remains a question mark after he started and ended last season on injured reserve, Harris should spearhead the Patriots’ rushing attack again this year, with Sony Michel, James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor and Tyler Gaffney rounding out the team’s current backfield.
Belichick lauded Harris’ work ethic, saying the Alabama product’s preparation for the 2021 season began almost immediately.
“He’s worked hard,” the Patriots head coach said. “He’s been here since the day after the season was over. He has worked as hard as anyone has in the offseason. I’m sure that’ll help his preparation. Heading into this camp, we’ll see how he does. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s a very dedicated player. I’ve been impressed by the commitment he has shown.”
Harris deflected Belichick’s praise, insisting he’s only focused on steady improvement.
“It’s just about improving,” he said after practice Thursday. “That’s my main motto. Each and every day I come out here, I want to improve my game. How can I be better? How can I help this team? What can I do to make this team better? How can I affect my teammates? How can I become a better leader? How can I become a better football player?
“Every facet, anything I can do, every second I step on this field is just to be better, and to help this team be better.”