Rhamondre Stevenson played big-time college football. But he wasn’t quite prepared for New England’s “no days off” attitude when he first joined the Patriots this past spring.
The productive rookie running back said Monday that bringing his best each and every day is the No. 1 lesson he’s learned in his young NFL career.
“In the NFL, you can’t take a day off,” Stevenson said in a video conference. “That’s what I learned, and I learned that pretty quick. You’ve got to come in with a mindset to get better and just do everything the right way. It’s never going to be perfect, but you’ve got to try to be perfect. I learned a lot of things, but that’s probably the main thing I learned. You’ve got to come to work every day and be accountable to your teammates.”
Stevenson did not make a good first impression in New England. Before his first training camp practice, he failed the Patriots’ conditioning test, delaying his debut. A week into camp, position coach Ivan Fears was asked what Stevenson needed to improve. His response: “Everything.”
“What do I like about him? He’s here. I like that he’s here,” Fears said on Aug. 4. “Other than that, everything’s got to improve. … There’s a lot out there going on that he’s got to figure out about pro football, and about being a professional, about making plays, all the aspects of the game. Other than that, he’s going to be on the sideline most of the game.”
That final line proved true for the early portion of Stevenson’s first pro season. After an impressive preseason, he lost a fumble and blew a blitz picking in Week 1, then was exiled to the inactive list for the next three games. The fourth-round draft pick was a healthy scratch again in Week 7 before finally gaining a permanent foothold in New England’s backfield.
Since then, he’s flourished. Stevenson’s 277 rushing yards over the last four weeks are fourth-most among all NFL rushers during that span. He’s averaged more than 5 yards per carry in each of his last four games and added a season-long total of 12 catches on 15 targets for 177 yards.
“I would say I had a pretty good foundation on route-running and catching the ball out of the backfield, but definitely just being up here for the few months I was, it’s definitely helped me out,” said Stevenson, who’s shown more receiving prowess than lead back Damien Harris. “I’m more comfortable pass-catching out of the backfield, things like that.”
Stevenson rushed for a career-high 100 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 10 win over the Cleveland Browns while Harris was sidelined with a concussion. Since Harris’ return the following week, the two early-down backs have rotated series, with each logging 21 total carries over the last two games. Brandon Bolden has served as the Patriots’ top third-down back since James White went down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 3.
Sunday’s 36-13 win over the Tennessee Titans featured a nearly even split between the three ball-carriers, with Harris playing 22 offensive snaps, Stevenson playing 20 and Bolden playing 19.
“I love it,” Stevenson said of that rotation. “I feel like me and Damien complement each other’s game very well. I think it’s a nice changeup, and I enjoy doing it, especially with my boy Damien and Brandon back there, as well. It’s just fun doing that, honestly, us all having a shot at what we do best.”
The Titans’ defense was able to largely stifle a Patriots rushing attack that had averaged 151.8 yards over the previous five games, but Stevenson and Harris finally broke through late. The former had runs of 4, 6, 10 and 19 yards on one fourth-quarter possession, and the latter added a 7-yarder and a 14-yard touchdown on New England’s final series. Bolden didn’t register a carry but caught four passes on four targets for 54 yards in the win.
“We all run hard, and we all bring a little bit different running style to the table,” Stevenson said. “I think it’s hard for defenses to defend all three of us. It’s a hard task, I think. We all complement each other.”