FOXBOROUGH — As the Patriots broke off for individual drills early in Tuesday morning’s practice, a tantalizing battle of second-year players loomed.
A football was placed on a tackling pad between receiver N’Keal Harry and cornerback Joejuan Williams.
Harry, the team’s top pick in 2019, snatched the ball and headed toward Williams, the second-rounder. Harry leaned in and delivered a blow as Williams clung on before he fell back while Harry rolled on.
It was a nice display of power for the noticeably slimmer Harry, still listed at 6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds. It also could be a nice sign of things to come for Harry, who missed the first nine games of his fledgling season because of leg woes.
Though Harry showed flashes late in 2019 — he caught a pair of touchdown passes and looked good on some jet sweeps — he wanted to increase his explosiveness, and that started with shedding some weight.
“I just felt like I was a little big,” Harry said after practice, without divulging what his current weight is. “I just felt like slimming down a little bit and being a little more thin would help me in getting off the top of my routes, getting in and out of my breaks and releases.”
Harry said “a lot of things” went into his body transformation, including lifting fewer weights and eating healthier.
Improving footwork was a priority for Harry, who relied more on size and physicality to thrive during his Arizona State days.
“I went into this offseason just attacking and just trying to improve all facets of my game,’' he said. “[Footwork] was one of them that I thought I had to improve on. That was one I focused on a lot.”
It’s a small sample size, but Harry has looked strong through two days of padded practices. Players often make huge jumps between Years 1 and 2, and Harry is aiming to fall into that category, especially given his improved comfort level with the offense.
“There’s a lot of things about this offense that would be hard to pick up at first, a lot of little details that a lot of guys don’t have to pay attention to in college,” he said. “This second year has helped me a lot — the offseason, just getting to study some things and knowing the offense a lot more. So, I came back, felt very comfortable with it, and it helped me a lot being a second-year guy.”
Harry enjoyed his off-campus work with new quarterback Cam Newton and said he admires what he brings to the Patriots. He also had sessions with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham.
“It helped a lot,” said Harry. “Just getting to go out there and throw with your quarterbacks, especially during the offseason, trying to build that chemistry always helps a lot. It also helped our off-the-field relationship. I knew Stidham and Hoyer more than I knew Cam. So I got to meet Cam a little bit this offseason and get to know him as a person.”
A favorite camp phrase of Patriots players is “stacking good days together,” and Harry said that’s even more important and relevant this summer, given the constraints of the offseason and the abbreviated summer.
“We’re doing everything we can and really leaving it all on the field every day,” he said. “Because we’re even with every team right now. We all started out with a short camp. We all have limited time to get ready.
“It’s really on us to be prepared and to make sure we’re coming into this building every morning and we’re leaving every night getting better at some things.”
No fans through September
The Patriots will not be allowed to host fans at least through September, according to a statement released by Gillette Stadium officials Tuesday.
Stadium officials “fully support” the decision, which was made in consultation with the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board “in the interest of public safety.”
New England has home games Sept. 13 against the Dolphins (the season opener) and the Raiders Sept. 27.
The club will contact ticket-holders directly regarding refunds.
“Gillette Stadium will continue its preparations to safely host fans later this fall and will rely on guidance from the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board and our team of independent experts,” said the statement. “The health and safety of our players, coaches, staff, fans and surrounding community has and will continue to lead our efforts.”
Harris stepping it up
With Sony Michel (foot) and Lamar Miller (knee) on the physically-unable-to-perform list, second-year running back Damien Harris has literally been carrying a lot of the load through two days of padded practices. Harris, who was buried on a loaded depth chart last season, is loving the extra work. “It’s given me an opportunity to improve,” he said. “That’s what I think is most important, coming in and showing that I can be dependable, I can be competitive, I can play the game at a high level. Just want to come in here and improve every single day no matter what is asked of me, no matter what coaches need me to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.”
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.