It’s never a good look to fail the training camp conditioning test. It’s an especially bad look if you’re a running back, and a rookie one, at that.
So, now Ivan Fears’ comments from earlier this month about Rhamondre Stevenson make a ton more sense.
The New England Patriots running back coach gave about as awful an endorsement as could be of Stevenson.
“What do I like about him? He’s here. I like that he’s here,” Fears had said back on Aug. 4. “Other than that, everything’s got to improve. That’s what we have to get done. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s talented, we’ll see what he can do in the games, but right now, he’s got a lot to learn ? a lot to learn.”
That was prior to the Patriots’ first preseason game, and the Oklahoma product since has become an August hero for New England. He scored a game-deciding 91-yard run in a win over the Washington Football Team, then carried the ball 15 times for 66 yards with a pair of touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Turns out, the reason for Stevenson’s initial absence from camp and bad review from Fears is because he failed his conditioning test. So, instead of joining the team for the early days of camp, he had to go through conditioning training to properly get into shape.
He’s caught up now, and Fears is singing a different tune.
“He has improved his status tremendously from where he was,” Fears told reporters Sunday, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “If you remember, he couldn’t even get started on the right day, he couldn’t quite finish the conditioning test. So he started out in the tank. He has climbed out of there.”
The emergence of Stevenson has, in a way, made things a lot harder on the Patriots. They now look loaded at the position, and undoubtedly won’t be able to carry everyone. Damien Harris will be the bellcow, and James White should continue to be a big part of the offense. Sony Michel is running well, and J.J. Taylor has flashed during the preseason, much like Stevenson. Brandon Bolden doesn’t offer a ton offensively, but long has been a special teams ace.
That’s a great problem to have, but there’s likely no shot the Patriots are going to carry six running backs. Perhaps a case of the Foxboro Flu might soon be making its way into town so Stevenson can get the also traditional Patriots running back redshirt year. Otherwise, the Patriots might have to cut Taylor and hope they can sneak him onto the practice squad, or trade Michel or Bolden.
Regardless, the final preseason game, which will be Sunday against the New York Giants, should be telling.