Should Patriots Consider Backfield Change After Rookie’s Rough Debut?

'He's a hell of a back, but he's got to learn that lesson'


September 14, 2021

Rhamondre Stevenson’s rookie preseason was highly impressive. His regular-season debut was anything but.

The New England Patriots’ first-year running back committed two glaring errors during Sunday’s Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins — a performance that could land him a spot on the inactive list for Week 2.

On the second touch of his NFL career, Stevenson lost a fumble — and didn’t make much of an effort to recover it, much to the chagrin of position coach Ivan Fears. That play landed the fourth-round draft pick on the bench for multiple series.

A minor facial injury to lead back Damien Harris thrust Stevenson back onto the field late in the second quarter. A breakdown in pass protection immediately followed, with blitzing linebacker Elandon Roberts running straight through Stevenson to land a low hit on quarterback Mac Jones.

Shortly thereafter, Stevenson’s afternoon was over. He played a total of five snaps on offense and none on special teams.

Fears criticized Stevenson’s lackluster ball security during a Tuesday afternoon video conference.

“You’ve got to understand how important that ball is,” the Patriots’ longtime running backs coach said. “I hope he learns from Damien (who also lost a fumble) on the situation, how devastating it is when you give up the ball. That’s got to become (priority) No. 1. He’s got to learn that no matter when the ball comes out, even though you may think you were down, the evidence doesn’t always back you. So you’ve got to hand the ball to the official, is what you’ve got to do.

“That should be your goal: You get tackled, you’re the one handing the ball to the official after every time you touch it. That’s the way we’ve got to approach it. He’s got to approach it that way. He’s got to learn that lesson. He’s a hell of a back, but he’s got to learn that lesson. He can’t play the other way.”

The Patriots often like to redshirt their rookie running backs — players like Harris, James White and Shane Vereen played sparingly as first-year pros — and Stevenson’s mistakes could push him back toward that track. It will be interesting to see whether second-year back J.J. Taylor, a healthy scratch against Miami, slots back into the gameday roster for Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets.

Asked whether he’s confident Taylor, who led all NFL rushers with 7.8 yards per carry this preseason, can contribute if called upon, Fears replied: “You know it.”

“Last year, J.J. would step up,” Fears said. “Whenever he was asked to play, he’d make some plays. The guy’s a doggone good back and he’s just got to wait for his shot. He had a hell of a week last week in practice as a scout-team guy, helping us and helping the defense.

“He’s ready. We’re always looking at those situations, and we’re going to — and hopefully, he’ll have another good doggone week. He’s definitely someone that we’d like to think about.”

The Patriots traded Sony Michel, Harris’s primary backup, to the Los Angeles Rams late in the preseason.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images
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