Patriots Hope Newly Promoted Rookie Fixed This Preseason Issue

'Ball security wasn't very good. Hopefully, that's better'


Oct 14, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots on Thursday called up a member of their 2022 draft class, officially promoting running back Kevin Harris from the practice squad.

He’d better take care of the ball better than he did in his first NFL preseason.

That was head coach Bill Belichick’s public message to Harris after the Patriots added the sixth-round rookie to the 53-man roster, setting him up to potentially make his pro debut Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

“He ran the ball well (this summer),” Belichick said in his Friday morning news conference. “Ball security wasn’t very good. Hopefully, that’s better. He’s worked at it. He knows that. He was a productive player at South Carolina, had some production during the preseason. We’ll see how it goes.”

An unremarkable afterthought throughout training camp, Harris broke out with four carries for 54 yards in the Patriots’ preseason finale. But he also lost a fumble in that game — a cardinal sin for a young running back.

Harris was the only 2022 Patriots draftee released during final roster cuts, and he spent the first five weeks of the season on the practice squad, working there along with third-year pro J.J. Taylor. But with starter Damien Harris suffering a hamstring injury last week that reportedly is expected to sideline him for multiple games, and third-down back Ty Montgomery not ready to return from injured reserve, the Patriots bumped the burly South Carolina product up from the 53 for extra depth behind Rhamondre Stevenson.

Stevenson is off to an excellent start in his second pro season, and Belichick this week said he has “as much confidence as you could possibly have” in the 2021 fourth-rounder to be a productive three-down back, contributing as a rusher, receiver and pass-blocker. Stevenson rushed for a career-high 161 yards in last week’s win over the Detroit Lions and faces another favorable matchup this week against a Browns run defense that ranks last in the NFL in both Football Outsiders’ DVOA and expected points added per rush

Both players behind him, however, are unproven at the NFL level. Kevin Harris has yet to take a regular-season snap, and fourth-round rookie Pierre Strong has only seen offensive action on kneeldowns. Strong was a healthy scratch against Detroit, with the Patriots choosing to include just two running backs on their gameday roster.

Coming out of the draft, Strong was viewed as a potential successor to James White, profiling more as a passing-down back despite being a highly prolific rusher at South Dakota State (1,686 yards, 18 touchdowns, 7.0 yards per carry last season). Belichick said passing-game concepts tend to be more difficult for young backs to grasp, which could explain Strong’s lack of playing time thus far.

“Pierre has a good skill set,” Belichick said. “He doesn’t have a lot of experience. He’s gained a lot of experience since he’s been here, but he has a long way to go. Obviously, the passing game is a lot harder for backs than the running game because of all the different things that can happen in the passing game. I know there’s stuff in the running game, too, but it’s a little more natural getting the ball and running with it. Which, I would say, that needs a lot of refinement with more backs in general. But in the passing game, the different blitz pickup assignments, the different blitzing techniques that the linebackers or secondary players use that they have to block is usually something that’s usually pretty foreign to them, or they lack experience with. …

“But Pierre’s fast. He’s got good size. He works hard. He’s a smart kid. Had a lot of production in the running game in college. Glad we have him. Keep working with him. He’s making progress. We’ll see how it goes.”

Stevenson, who played 90% of snaps against the Lions, can expect another heavy workload this week. But if Damien Harris is unavailable, they’ll be relying on one or both of their young backs to provide complementary production.

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