Why Bill Belichick Is Optimistic About Patriots’ Rookie Running Backs

'They're definitely improving'


Aug 27, 2022

Early in training camp, Bill Belichick talked about how picking up the passing game and special teams would be crucial toward rookie running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris earning roles this season.

“There’s just a lot more to the passing game in the NFL than there is in most colleges,” the New England Patriots head coach said on Aug. 3. “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.”

So, with Strong and Harris now through their first NFL training camp and preseason, how have they progressed?

“Better. Improved,” Belichick said during a Saturday morning conference call. “Still, like all rookies at that position, there’s a long way to go. But, headed in the right direction. There were some encouraging things last night. Both those guys are, again like most rookie backs are, better with the ball in their hands than all the things they have to do without it. But that’s pretty normal. So, continue to work on those areas.

“Vinnie (Sunseri)’s done a good job with those guys, bringing them along and teaching them what to do. There’s a lot of things happening at that position. Like I said, especially when the ball isn’t in their hand — that’s kind of the, I don’t want to say easy part, but the part that they’ve had the most experience with, it’s all the other things. But they’re definitely improving.”

To be honest, neither Strong nor Harris have done much this offseason.

Strong was limited with an undisclosed injury early in camp, and Harris saw little work as he clearly is low on the running back depth chart. And when they have gotten opportunities, neither rookie has done much with them — partly due to the ongoing struggles of the offensive line.

That said, Harris did show well in Friday’s preseason loss to the Las Vegas Raiders despite losing a fumble late in the game. The South Carolina product finished with 54 yards, including a 33-yarder, on four carries to go along with one reception for 7 yards. Strong finished with four yards on two carries to go along with two catches for 13 yards.

As for their chances of making the team, Strong’s spot on the roster almost certainly is safe given he’s a fourth-round pick. Harris, on the other hand, might be a long shot as a sixth-round pick who, until Friday, hadn’t popped in any meaningful way.

However, the injury to Ty Montgomery could change things. Prior to Montgomery going down, it seemed probable that both Harris and J.J. Taylor wouldn’t make the 53-man roster. But if Montgomery is forced to miss any time, one of them likely will earn a spot. As of right now, it’s hard to argue against the more dynamic and experienced Taylor getting the nod over Harris.

The Patriots must announce their 53-man roster by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

NESN.com’s coverage of New England Patriots preseason is presented by Cross Insurance, protecting your team since 1954.

Thumbnail photo via Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports Images
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