Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears is looking forward to the return of Damien Harris, although Fears is still awaiting word about the second-year player’s availability.
Harris, who missed New England’s first three games because of a finger injury, is eligible to be activated off injured reserve this week. After rarely seeing the field as a rookie, Harris was impressive during training camp prior to undergoing a procedure on his pinkie.
“I’m really excited about having Damien back if we can get him back,” Fears said Tuesday. “I think we’re all kind of anxious to see what he will do when it’s truly go time. Everything he’s shown has been outstanding.”
The Patriots will have a stacked backfield, with Harris, James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor. But Fears doesn’t seem too concerned about distributing touches, referring to the situation as “a good problem to have.”
“Things sort of take care of themselves when it comes to who’s available and who’s not available, or who’s performing, who’s not performing,” Fears said. “You’ve got to perform, you’ve got to perform in practice, and we take the best of the lot if everybody happens to be available.”
Taylor might be the odd one out, even though he’s made the most of his opportunities through three weeks. In Week 3, he was on the field for 22 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, and rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries. Fears wouldn’t tip his hand when asked if Taylor would still garner carries with the other four backs active.
“Which way it’s going to go, I don’t know,” he said. “We’re very happy with J.J.'s growth and development. We only look forward to him getting better and better.”
Fears did not have an update on White, who was inactive for last Sunday’s win over the Raiders. White has been away from the team after his father was killed and his mother suffered life-threatening injuries in a car crash in Florida on Sept. 20.
On Tuesday, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office did not have an update on White’s mother or the status of the investigation into the crash.
“I think I should let him answer how he’s doing,” Fears said. “All I can say is that we love them and we’re trying to be there for him. We really are. We’re looking forward to when he gets back, and we’ll take it from there. Whatever he needs, what we’re going to try to do.”
In praise of Cam
There’s no shortage of praise for quarterback Cam Newton.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch had nothing but positive reviews about their experiences working with Newton. Among the qualities the two praised were Newton’s humility, work ethic, and enthusiasm.
“Cam’s been very consistent since I first met Cam,” McDaniels said. “I have a great respect for how much time and effort he puts in to prepare himself each day for what lies ahead. He’s here early, he’s here late. He doesn’t cut any corner. He is a tremendous leader and he does a lot each day to make sure he is at his best the next day.”
McDaniels called Newton “very enjoyable” to coach.
“He listens,” McDaniels said. “He’s a really good listener. He communicates well. If he has a question, you always hear the question. He doesn’t hold anything in. Honestly, those are the things — if you could ask anything — it’s that they would communicate when they don’t understand something clearly.”
Fisch also highlighted Newton’s ability to instill confidence in those around him.
“I think that’s probably one of Cam’s top characteristics,” Fisch said. "If he can continue to build their confidence, by either getting them the ball or working with them or talking to players and skilled position groups and continuing to motivate and inspire them all, all the confidence will be gained throughout the offense.''
Center David Andrews has remained an active teammate while on injured reserve, according to offensive line coach Cole Popovich.
“David has been around and has provided a lot of leadership still, even though he’s not out on the field with us, which has been excellent,” Popovich said.
Against the Raiders, guard Joe Thuney filled in for Andrews, who was placed on IR after undergoing surgery to repair a broken right thumb. Andrews will also sit out New England’s next two games (against the Chiefs and Broncos) before being eligible to return.
In the meantime, Andrews has served as a resource for Thuney. Popovich said the pair, along with backup center James Ferentz, often meet between series during practices to review snaps and ensure Thuney feels comfortable in the new role.
Popovich echoed Thuney’s teammates in praising him for his performance on Sunday. Not once was there a miscue under center, nor was Thuney — or the offensive line, for that matter — whistled for any penalties.
“I can’t say enough about Joe, he’s been kind of a rock since he’s been here,” Popovich said. “He hasn’t missed a start and he’s always been a great performer.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.