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This week’s challenge for the Patriots defense: explosive Saints back Alvin Kamara

Alvin Kamara (5 yards on eight carries) was bottled up by the Panthers this past Sunday, but the Patriots are not taking him lightly.
Alvin Kamara (5 yards on eight carries) was bottled up by the Panthers this past Sunday, but the Patriots are not taking him lightly.Nell Redmond/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH — When the New Orleans Saints come to town this weekend, the Patriots defense will have its hands full with one of the NFL’s top running backs.

Alvin Kamara rushed for just 5 yards on eight carries against Carolina in Week 2, but New England’s defensive leaders know that performance is hardly representative of his abilities.

“You try to build the perfect back, he essentially has everything you need,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “You can hand off the ball to him and expect maybe a 3- or 4-yard run, but he’ll turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. He’s just that type of player.”

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Added tackle Lawrence Guy, “There’s not much you can doubt about him as a player.”

Alvin Kamara is the most dynamic offensive option New Orleans has to offer.
Alvin Kamara is the most dynamic offensive option New Orleans has to offer.Nell Redmond/Associated Press

Last season, Kamara finished with 1,688 yards from scrimmage — 932 on the ground, 756 in the air — and 21 touchdowns. His production has been consistent since he entered the league as a third-round pick in 2017, as he has averaged 1,541 yards from scrimmage per season.

Hightower praised Kamara for a multitude of skills, including his vision, balance, strength, toughness, and versatility. He noted that the Saints can deliver the ball to Kamara in a variety of ways, whether it be on a traditional handoff, jet sweep, screen, or receiving route.

“However you want to get him the ball, you can get it to him,” Hightower said.

And once Kamara has the ball?

“His vision is crazy, and his elusiveness is even more crazy,” said safety Adrian Phillips. “He’s going to make you miss in a phone booth. When you know it’s a run, you have to close the space right now, because if you don’t, he’s going to take that thing for, like, 60, 70 yards.”

Coach Bill Belichick also chimed in with some praise.

“He does everything well,” Belichick said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to keep your eye on at all times. He plays on all three downs. He’s always in there.”

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New England’s run defense was among the NFL’s worst last season. The Patriots gave up 2,103 rushing yards for an average of 131.4 per game, which ranked 26th in the league, and 131 rushing first downs, which ranked 28th.

Dont'a Hightower and the Patriots' run defense have a tall task when it comes to trying to slow Alvin Kamara.
Dont'a Hightower and the Patriots' run defense have a tall task when it comes to trying to slow Alvin Kamara.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

They have upgraded with the offseason additions of outside linebacker Matthew Judon, tackle Davon Godchaux, and defensive end Henry Anderson. The return of Hightower, who opted out of the 2020 season, undoubtedly helps, too.

While the unit has largely fared well through two games, giving up a total of 23 points, the Patriots allowed the lowly Jets to rush for 152 yards, with an average of 4.5 yards per attempt. Each New York running back — Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and Tevin Coleman — registered a run of at least 14 yards.

“There’s times in the game where we’re playing really well and then there’s time where they might spark off a big moment,” Hightower said. “Just trying to limit those and make sure they’re not 20-, 30-yard runs and just trying to limit those situations because the guys on the back end, they have a tough job. Whenever we can make guys one-dimensional, it makes things a lot easier for everybody.”

As for other potential areas of improvement, Guy pointed to the fact that in Week 1, when the Patriots limited the Dolphins to 74 rushing yards on 3.2 yards per carry, they failed to get a key stop in the fourth quarter.

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Trailing by 1 with just over 3½ minutes remaining, the Patriots utilized all three of their timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back following Damien Harris’s costly fumble. The Dolphins, however, successfully executed four consecutive running plays to convert two first downs and seal the game.

According to Guy, containing the run in critical moments was a focus during film sessions.

Kamara certainly will put the defense’s efforts to the test.

Lawrence Guy has the utmost respect for Alvin Kamara and his skills.
Lawrence Guy has the utmost respect for Alvin Kamara and his skills.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“It’s one of those things where we have to play down by down,” Guy said. “Understand that he’s going to get some big plays and we have to eliminate how many big plays he does get.”

Injury report

Judon was the lone non-participant in Wednesday’s rainy practice session, sidelined with a knee injury. Judon, a new addition to the injury report, was on the field for 68 percent of the defensive snaps last Sunday. Harris (finger) also was added to the injury report as a limited participant. Tackle Trent Brown (calf) remained limited after missing Sunday’s game, while linebacker Kyle Van Noy (throat), who also missed Sunday’s game, returned to full participation.

Wilfork a candidate

Former Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is among the 10 first-year-eligible candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. A total of 122 modern-era players were nominated. The list will be trimmed to 25 in November and then 15 finalists in January. Among the other former Patriots on the preliminary list are running back Corey Dillon and cornerback Asante Samuel … The Patriots signed offensive lineman Jake Eldrenkamp to their practice squad.

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Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.