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Can Damien Harris become the offensive force the Patriots need him to be?

Damien Harris did a good job of staying out of the Bills' grasp this past Sunday.
Damien Harris did a good job of staying out of the Bills' grasp this past Sunday.Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

Damien Harris is an energy guy.

For the second time this season, the second-year running back has given the Patriots offense a nice jolt, rushing for 102 yards on 16 carries in last Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Bills.

Harris had limited chances his rookie year with a stacked depth chart in front of him. He was the club’s best all-around back during a truncated 2020 training camp, but the summer had a sour ending when he injured his thumb and was forced to go on injured reserve.

He returned for the Chiefs game in Week 4 and promptly ran for 100 yards in his first career start.


A well-built 5 feet 11 inches and 213 pounds, Harris has flashed a nice first-step burst, good vision and instincts, and an ability to finish his runs with force.

Harris may not possess the size and sheer strength of fellow Alabama alum Derrick Henry, but he’s right on the heels of the Titans' star running back.

Since Harris debuted in Week 4, 31 NFL backs have had at least 40 rushing attempts, and he ranks second among them at 5.69 yards per tote, with only Henry (5.77) ahead of him.

“Damien’s well-prepared,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. "Damien runs hard. He’s physical. He’s aggressive.

“Damien’s the kind of guy that there may or may not be a hole, but he’s going to make one. And when he gets into the defense like he did on Sunday, you’ve got a chance to maybe break a tackle or make somebody miss and create a bigger play.”

Among Harris’s runs was a nifty 22-yarder that ended with his first professional touchdown.

“I’m very pleased with what Damien has done,” said McDaniels. “I like the way he plays, his running style. I think he gives us an opportunity to create some chunk plays with the way he attacks the line of scrimmage and addresses linebackers and safeties at the second level.”


Though Harris hasn’t really been involved as a pass catcher, he did work from the slot at times and collected 52 catches for the Crimson Tide.

He also did some nice work in passing situations against the Bills, showing some veteran savvy in picking up blitzes. Pass protection is traditionally an area that keeps some backs — despite their talent level — on the sideline early in their careers.

“Young players, that’s one of the areas where, when you come into the league, you don’t necessarily have great exposure at handling blitzes and seeing all the different things that are thrown at you in the National Football League,” said McDaniels. “Damien was able to pick up a couple of secondary pressures on Sunday.”

The Patriots could be facing a distribution dilemma soon, with Sony Michel, their No. 1 back the last two years, eligible to come off injured reserve for Monday night’s game against the Jets.

Damien Harris heads upfield against the Niners earlier this season.
Damien Harris heads upfield against the Niners earlier this season.Matthew J. Lee/Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Competition is always welcomed in Foxborough, and Michel responded well earlier this season when rookie J.J. Taylor had some nice moments. Michel rushed for 117 yards on just nine carries against the Raiders in Week 3 before suffering a quadriceps injury. He could practice as early as today.

For comparison, Harris has played 76 snaps and has 279 rushing yards (3.7 yards per snap) and Michel has been on the field for 60 snaps and has 173 rushing yards (2.9 yards per snap).


"[Harris is] certainly a young guy that’s really taking advantage of his opportunities and making the most of them,'' said McDaniels.

. . .

The Patriots added a pair of veterans, signing wide receiver Donte Moncrief and defensive lineman Ryan Glasgow to the practice squad. A third-round pick of Indianapolis in 2014, the 6-2, 216-pound Moncrief has played in 77 career games for the Colts, Jaguars, Panthers, and Steelers. He has 204 catches for 2,561 yards and 21 touchdowns. Moncrief, 27, has an additional 5 catches for 86 yards and a score in three playoff games. Glasgow (6-3, 300 pounds) was a fourth-round pick of the Bengals in 2017 out of the University of Michigan. The 27-year-old has 41 tackles in 24 career games . . . Bill Belichick said Wednesday he wasn’t aware of the Patriots entertaining any trade offers for cornerback Stephon Gilmore before Tuesday’s deadline. He also declined to discuss any conversations he had with other clubs, opting to keep them private . . . The coach also confirmed that rookie tight end Devin Asiasi was placed on injured reserve for an unspecified injury that had nothing to do with his missing the Buffalo trip for “personal reasons” . . . Belichick joked that the team is “collecting” Isaiahs after trading for wide receiver Isaiah Ford and claiming defensive tackle Isaiah Mack on Tuesday. The Patriots also have Isaiah Wynn and Isaiah Zuber on the roster . . . Both Ford and Mack need to complete COVID-19 protocols before they can officially start practicing with the team. . . . Ford sent out tweets thanking the Dolphins organization — everyone from teammates to the cafeteria and custodial staffs — for his time there. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of bonding with you all,” he wrote. He also thanked the Patriots for the “fresh start” and said he’s “excited to get to work.” . . . The team worked out wide receiver/kick returner Darius Jennings, who led the NFL in kickoff return average in 2018.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.