FOXBORO, Mass. — Last month, legendary Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears issued a stern challenge to Rhamondre Stevenson.

“He’s about to become a leader,” Fears said on WEEI’s “6 Rings” podcast. “He’s the veteran guy in the room. It’s one thing to say you’re gonna lead on Sunday. But, if you’re gonna be successful, you’ve gotta lead every day of the week. And he’s gotta step up in that area.”

Whether Stevenson heard Fears’ comments is unclear. But it’s obvious that someone on New England’s coaching staff delivered a similar message this offseason — and Stevenson is taking it seriously.

“Yeah, that’s what’s being asked of me right now,” Stevenson said after Tuesday’s OTA practice, which Fears watched from afar. “I’m trying to take that step. You know, it’s still early, like I said, but I’m trying to take that step and be a leader.”

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With Damien Harris now a member of the Buffalo Bills, Stevenson is the top dog in the Patriots backfield after a breakout sophomore campaign. And unless New England can identify a capable tandem back by the time the regular season rolls around, the third-year pro could be in for another massive workload. Toward the end of the 2022 campaign, Stevenson admitted to being worn down by the high usage, something he’s committed to preventing in 2023.

“Damien’s out of here now, so I’m kind of the guy,” Stevenson said Tuesday. “Just trying to make sure I’m ready for the end of the season this year. … Just taking care of my body, just trying to be proactive.”

Fears seemed particularly concerned about New England lacking a capable backup for Stevenson. But he wants Stevenson to play a role in getting someone ready for the job, be it James Robinson, Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong or Kevin Harris.

“He’s got a young room,” Fears said during the WEEI appearance. “He’s got a very young room. Ty’s coming off the injury. He’s there, but he doesn’t have the image right now that Rhamondre’s carrying. Everybody looks to Rhamondre because he’s the man. … But he’s gotta step up in getting those guys ready. This young room, he’s gotta somebody ready to back him up. Gotta get somebody ready to play.”

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So far, neither the veteran nor the second-year backups have stood out in any meaningful way during open spring practices. Nevertheless, Stevenson likes what he’s seen from his fellow running backs.

“I’ve seen progress from all of us,” he said. “We’re just putting in plays and stuff right now, just trying to learn the playbook. Trying to do what we do good, but just do it greater.”

Talent isn’t a concern with New England’s backfield. But inexperience with Strong and Harris, and injury history with Robinson and Montgomery, make it fair to worry about what the Patriots running game could look like in the event its bell cow gets hurt or wears down. So, it’s important for Stevenson to succeed in preparing a backup for significant playing time.

If New England’s backfield is going to reach its high ceiling this season, Stevenson will need to lead the way both on and off the field.

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Featured image via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images