FOXBOROUGH — It sure sounds as though a bigger role is in store for Patriots running back Damien Harris.
On the second day of training camp, coach Bill Belichick didn’t hold back in praising Harris, who is coming off a breakout sophomore season. After barely seeing the field as a rookie, Harris rushed for a team-high 691 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games last year.
“I think Damien’s a player that improved a lot from Year 1 to Year 2,” Belichick said. “This year, he’s in a little different role. Now, he has an opportunity to compete for a lead spot. He has embraced that.”
Harris, a 2019 third-round draft pick, was on the field for just five of New England’s offensive snaps as a rookie. That number skyrocketed to 251 (24.8 percent) last season. Veteran James White led the position group with 330 snaps (32.6 percent), followed by Rex Burkhead, who now plays for the Houston Texans, with 269 (26.6 percent).
If he stays healthy, Harris could command a larger share this season.
“He’s worked hard,” Belichick said. “He’s been here since the day after the season was over. He has worked as hard as anyone has in the offseason. I’m sure that’ll help his preparation.
“Heading into this camp, we’ll see how he does. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s a very dedicated player. I’ve been impressed by the commitment he has shown.”
Harris, for his part, is saying all the right things. He wouldn’t get into specifics on what he’s worked on this offseason, just that he wants to continue to improve and help the team.
“This is the National Football League,” he said. “You’re going against the best of the best. Everybody improves every single year on every single team. If that’s not your goal, you’re going to get passed by. There’s no one thing, no one skill. You just have to continue to improve and evolve as a football player.”
In addition to Harris, the running back room features White, who re-signed on a one-year deal, and Sony Michel, who is entering the final year of his contract after the Patriots declined to pick up his option. J.J. Taylor, Brandon Bolden, Tyler Gaffney, and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson round out the current depth chart.
Despite the battle for touches and roster spots, Harris praised the group for a supportive, close-knit environment.
“The camaraderie, the brotherhood, I can’t even put it into words how great it is playing alongside those guys,” he said. “Every single day, we come out here and we support each other, we push each other, we compete, and we do everything we can to make each other better. It’s such an unselfish group. There’s no egos.
“We know that if we all come together, we can be one of the strongest position groups and help this team be successful on offense.”
Tweet and sour
New linebacker Matthew Judon said nothing specific prompted him to tweet, “The NFLPA [expletive] sucks,” last week.
Judon’s tweet came shortly after the NFL announced its operating policies regarding COVID-19 for the upcoming season. Among the new rules, which were agreed upon by the league and the Players Association, is that players from both teams will not get paid should a game be canceled because of an outbreak.
There are also stark differences in the protocols for those who are vaccinated versus those who are not.
“With the PA, it’s the PA, man,” Judon said. “They’re going to deal with protocols and do what they think is right for the players or for the organizations or the league. We’ve just got to abide by it. It don’t mean we have to like it.”
Face in the crowd
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was a guest at Thursday’s practice. The three-time Super Bowl champion spent much of his time conversing with Belichick, senior football adviser Matt Patricia, and owner Robert Kraft.
Bruschi, 48, has served as an analyst on ESPN since retiring in 2009. In February, he also was hired as a senior adviser to the head football coach at Arizona, his alma mater.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.