Usually when a running back is drafted in the third round — especially one who was the lead running back at Alabama for three years — he can expect to play a lot right away.
But Damien Harris was buried on the Patriots’ depth chart as a rookie last year, active for only two games as he sat behind Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden. Harris finished with just four carries for 12 yards, all in mop-up duty.
Now he is ready to shake off the rust and make his mark in his sophomore campaign.
“That’s last year,” he said. “It has nothing to do with this year, it has nothing to do with what’s going on right now. All I can focus on is going out there with the right attitude, right mind-set, and just try to keep stacking days together.”
With Michel not practicing while he’s on the physically unable to perform list, and Bolden opting out of the 2020 season, Harris has been seeing a ton of work in training camp, and is trying to make the most of it.
“There have been a lot of things that have helped me in my transition from Year 1 and Year 2,” Harris said after an active practice Tuesday. “And every single day I come in with the mind-set, ‘How can I get better? What can I do to improve?’ ”
Harris didn’t get much playing time because Michel, White, Burkhead, and Bolden stayed healthy, and he doesn’t contribute much on special teams.
A powerful running back at 5 feet 11 inches and 213 pounds, Harris said he is far more comfortable with the offense and the system this year. But the competition at the position — the Patriots also have rookie J.J. Taylor and Lamar Miller, who has yet to practice — doesn’t let Harris get complacent with any progress.
“The best is demanded of you every single day, from your coaches, from your teammates, from the moment you walk in to the moment you walk out,” Harris said. “It’s definitely not comfortable, because every day you have to come in and do just that.”
Julian Edelman’s progress with Cam Newton stalled a bit Tuesday as the veteran receiver missed practice for an undisclosed reason. Edelman had been putting in a lot of extra work with Newton off to the side recently.
But the Patriots did receive some good news when star cornerback Stephon Gilmore returned to practice. He had missed five days with what Bill Belichick said was an excused absence. The NFL’s COVID-19 testing protocols held up Gilmore’s return for a few days, but his teammates were definitely glad to have him back.
“Steph is a guy that we all look up to,” safety Terrance Brooks said. “I like to have Steph out there because I can learn from him. Just the way he covers, the way he goes about practice, the way he carries himself.
“It’s always good to get your brother back in the building. We definitely missed him. It felt good to have him out there. You don’t need to worry about as many receivers when he’s out there.”
The milk man
Chase Winovich swore that he wasn’t doing an ad — he just loves milk, and he took a nice long swig of it after practice before his Zoom call with media.
“It’s one of those things where I feel like there’s a subtle war against milk,” Winovich said. “I obviously enjoy milk. I think dairy farmers do excellent work around this country. We need to appreciate them and the beautiful cows that are also milked and produce this delicious milk.”
The second-year defensive end has professed his love for milk many times over the years, particularly when he can “feel it run through my mustache.”
Nothing makes me feel more like a man than when I drink a glass of whole milk and can feel it run through my mustache— Chase Winovich (@Wino) September 26, 2017
On his YouTube channel, Winovich once visited Liberty Hill Farm in Vermont for an episode.
“I got the opportunity to meet all the cows and actually milk some,” he said. “It was an awesome time. I really just fell in love with the process. Already had a love for milk. I’ve been tweeting about milk for years.
“My cousin also is a dairy farmer in the Pittsburgh region, Lancaster County, Amish country.”
False but not alarming
The Patriots reportedly were one of 11 teams affected last weekend when the NFL had 77 players and staff members come back as false positives because of an error at a testing lab in New Jersey. The Patriots did not have to push back practice or have key players sit out like the Bills, Browns, and Vikings did, and Belichick said they aren’t worried about false positives or similar mishaps in the future.
“From our standpoint, I think we’re doing the right things,” he said Monday. “We’ve had really almost no problems that we have any control over. Like I said, when we feel like we need to do something differently, then we address it or change it or modify somehow to make it better or get it right, and we’ll continue to do that.”
It’s about to get real
A truncated preseason means that the teaching portion of camp is ending and the competition is heating up. There are only 17 days left until the opener, and Belichick wants to spend the last 10 days or so game-planning on the Dolphins. If players don’t have their assignments down cold this week, they will be in trouble. “This will be multiple times — at least second, third, maybe fourth time through — on a lot of things that we’re doing, whether that’s plays or techniques or situations, things like that,” he said. “Now, we really need to see those things start to come together this week on all levels in all three phases of the game.”