FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots running back Damien Harris is adapting to some new responsibilities as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Once a breakout star, he’s now a veteran leader.
“I’m fortunate because I’ve been here for a decent amount of time now, and I’m kind of leaning into a little bit of a different role now,” the fourth-year pro said after Friday’s training camp practice. “But I just like to come out here and be my best. I don’t like to come out here and count the days or anything like that. I just like to come out here and play football.”
Harris headlines a deep position group that features 2021 fourth-round draft pick Rhamondre Stevenson, 2022 fourth-rounder Pierre Strong, 2022 sixth-rounder Kevin Harris and J.J. Taylor, who joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Three-time Super Bowl-winner and longtime team co-captain James White also remains on New England’s roster, but he has yet to fully recover from the hip injury that ended his 2021 campaign, putting his status for this season in question.
A third-round pick in 2019, Harris impressed in 2020 after a rookie redshirt, then rushed for 15 touchdowns last season, tied for second-most in the NFL behind Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Jonathan Taylor’s 18.
“(I’m) just becoming an older guy in the organization,” Harris said. “I say ‘older’ even though I’m still kind of young, but I’m moving up there a little bit. And I know that as time goes on, more responsibilities come. But I’m embracing it every day. …
“Being a little bit of an older guy in the room now, I don’t really feel any extra pressure or responsibility, because every day when I step out here, my goal is to be my best. And I know that if I’m my best, I can push other people to be their best, as well, with that energy and enthusiasm — just me doing my job and trying to help other guys do their jobs and be their best. That’s really my mentality every day.”
That energy and enthusiasm have been clearly visible in training camp, with Harris letting out a string of loud barks and he took the field Friday and another when he arrived at his post-practice media session.
Harris again projects as New England lead back, but he’ll face competition from Stevenson, who overcame an inauspicious start last season to become one of the NFL’s top rookie rushers. Both have seen plenty of reps with the Patriots’ first-team offense in camp and, barring injury, should form one of the league’s most formidable backfield duos.
The Patriots also have involved both in the passing game this summer, with Harris tallying six receptions through three camp practices and Stevenson grabbing eight. One or both could see a prominent role on passing downs this season if White remains sidelined or limited, with Stevenson the more likely candidate to fill that role.
Hybrid receiver/running back Ty Montgomery has seen substantial backfield reps in camp and is another option there. Strong has been viewed as a potential White successor but is dealing with an undisclosed injury that’s limited him in camp.
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