Bill Belichick Reveals Top Challenge Facing Rookie Patriots Running Backs

'Most of them haven't done much of that'


Aug 3, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — Rhamondre Stevenson’s impressive rookie campaign notwithstanding, the Patriots typically don’t give large roles to first-year running backs. Shane Vereen, James White and Damien Harris are just some of the backs who effectively redshirted during their freshman years in New England.

It’s not for lack of talent. All of those players had ability, and all went on to be productive running backs for the Patriots. Rather, young backs must convince Belichick that they know the offensive scheme inside and out and can be trusted in the passing game both as receivers and blockers. Being useful on special teams doesn’t hurt, either.

Rookies Pierre Strong (fourth round) and Kevin Harris (sixth round) are the latest examples of rookie running backs fighting for roles/roster spots in Foxboro. Ahead of Wednesday’s training camp practice, Belichick was asked about Harris’ progress, specifically.

“Good, good,” he said. “We do a lot more in the passing game than they did in South Carolina, but that’s pretty common. That’s the same thing for Strong. There’s just a lot more to the passing game in the NFL than there is in most colleges. So that’s been the big adjustment. Not that there aren’t changes in the running game but there are.

“Then I’d say the kicking game, that’s another area for players like that, that they need to have a role in, in order to help their opportunity to be active on game day and make the roster. Most of them haven’t done much of that. So, those are the two big areas for, I’d say most young players at that position.”

Harris agreed with Belichick’s assessment.

“They do more passing in the league, for sure, than in college,” Harris said. “But I mean, you gotta do it.”

On his development in the passing game and on special teams, Harris added: “Pretty good. We gotta learn and watch the other guys do it. And you’ll catch on, eventually.”

The battle for spots on the running back depth chart after Stevenson and Damien Harris is one of the more fascinating storylines in Patriots training camp.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine James White being available for Week 1. The 30-year-old still is working his way back from major hip surgery and has yet to practice during camp. There reportedly is a real chance he begins the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Initially, there was optimism that Strong could fill White’s shoes. But the South Dakota State product has been limited all camp and missed valuable practice time. And, though Kevin Harris has seen a lot of work and generally has been impressive, he still has a long way to go. Additionally, J.J. Taylor has yet to pop the way many hoped he would in Year 3. It still is early, but it would take a major reversal for any of the three to seize the third-down-back job from veteran Ty Montgomery, who’s been busy on both offense and special teams in every practice.

Right now, Montgomery is the favorite to land the job Brandon Bolden had in 2021 — and it’s not close.

Last season, the Patriots typically had three running backs active on gamedays while carrying a fourth as a healthy scratch (Taylor). That fourth spot seemingly is up for grabs, with Strong, Kevin Harris and Taylor in the running.

As a fourth-round pick, Strong almost certainly won’t be cut. And if he’s healthy, the job likely is his. That would greatly increase the likelihood of Harris and/or Taylor getting cut. But should Strong begin the season on injured reserve with an actual injury or the “Foxboro Flu,” Harris or Taylor could get the nod.

Obviously, injuries to any of the aforementioned players would change the entire conversation.

Few things have been decided in New England’s running back room. Harris and Strong could earn legitimate roles this season, but not before they meet Belichick’s criteria.’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images
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