FOXBOROUGH — Ivan Fears was one happy man Wednesday morning.
Actually, the Patriots running backs coach comes off happy most of the time (unless maybe one of his pupils misses a blitz pickup) but he was especially happy on this occasion.
Damien Harris, Fears’s star student this season, was present for practice after a scare late in Monday’s win over the Jets when he took a pulverizing hit to the midsection. Harris, the team’s leading rusher with 350 yards on 63 totes, bounced back nicely.
“Oh, definitely. Definitely very happy to have him,” Fears said. “We need to try and stay as healthy as we possibly can.”
Running back depth has been important for the Patriots this season, with Harris, Sony Michel, and James White all missing time.
Harris and Michel, projected as the team’s top rushers to start the season, have yet to suit up together. Harris missed the first three weeks with a thumb injury and Michel has been out for the last five games with a quadriceps problem.
Michel has been back practicing for two weeks, and Fears feared the injury seesaw was continuing when Harris went down.
“Him and Sony had been playing like a tag team — one guy gets hurt, the other one comes back — so I was a little worried that’s what it was going to be,” said Fears, “but really happy when he was able to come out and practice. No doubt about it.”
Harris had to leave the game, and it appeared he might need to shelved. Understandably, he wasn’t interested in revisiting the play.
“To be honest, I am not really here to talk about that situation,” said Harris, who has been limited in practice by chest and ankle injuries. “It happened and it’s over with.
"I’ve been out here trying to get myself [ready] to play in this game and that is what I am focusing on. We’re playing a good physical team this week and I’ve just been trying to do my part in getting myself as mentally ready and as physically ready to be able to play in this game and be successful.”
Harris has displayed a determined and powerful running style since being inserted into the lineup.
"Damien, I’ve always thought, was a pretty good player,'' said Fears. “I mean, it’s just a matter of getting it all in, getting healthy, timing. There are a lot of factors involved, but he’s definitely taking the bull by the horn and is playing really well right now. Really happy with him.”
The Patriots have faced the Ravens 10 times — including four postseason matchups — since Matthew Slater was drafted in 2008, and the special teams captain said he’s been proud to be part of one of the AFC’s top rivalries.
Slater’s respect for the Ravens franchise — they do “everything the right way,” he said — is obvious.
“When you think about the way that football, in my mind, should be played — with physicality, with toughness, with commitment to each other, and commitment to the process — I think Baltimore does that as well as anyone over the last several decades,” said Slater.
The theme for Patriots-Ravens games is physicality, and the tone for these tilts is set early.
“And the thing that sticks out to me above all else is, when you play the Baltimore Ravens, they’re going to come in and try to hit you square in the mouth,” said Slater. “And if you’re not ready, they’re going to keep hitting you in the mouth and you’ll never recover. So, physicality is the thing.”
The feeling doesn’t end with the final whistle, either.
“Yeah, you feel it on Monday. I’ll tell you that,” said Slater. “You definitely feel it on Monday. But that’s a good thing. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Trio back on field
Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (knee) and Jonathan Jones (illness), and safety Terrance Brooks (illness) returned for Friday’s shells-and-sweats practice after sitting out Thursday’s full-pads session. All three are listed as limited/questionable.
Linebacker Shilique Calhoun (knee) was not spotted during the media window at practice but was officially listed as limited/questionable.
The club listed 13 other players with the same designation: linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin), defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (shoulder, elbow, knee), defensive ends John Simon (elbow) and Deatrich Wise (knee, hand), safeties Kyle Dugger (ankle) and Cody Davis (calf), receiver N’Keal Harry (concussion), running back Damien Harris (chest, ankle), tight end Ryan Izzo (hamstring), guards Joe Thuney (ankle) and Shaq Mason (calf), left tackle Isaiah Wynn (ankle), and kicker Nick Folk (back).
Cornerback J.C. Jackson (knee), DT Carl Davis (concussion), and RB J.J. Taylor (illness) were removed from the list.
For the Ravens, DE Calais Campbell (calf) was ruled out, while CB Jimmy Smith (ankle) is labeled as doubtful.
The Patriots placed practice squad offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch on injured reserve and cut PS tight end Dylan Cantrell … The Patriots are 10-4 all-time vs. the Ravens, including 2-2 in the postseason. The clubs are 4-4 over the last eight meetings.