The Patriots receiving corps could get a big boost as early as Tuesday morning if the club decides to have N’Keal Harry rejoin his teammates at practice Tuesday.
Harry was placed on injured reserve after suffering a hamstring injury during the second preseason game in Detroit. The first-rounder was surging in camp and made a pair of terrific catches during the victory over the Lions after making a string of practice eye-poppers in the preceding weeks.
“If he’s ready, yes,’’ coach Bill Belichick said on a Monday morning conference call when asked if hopes to have Harry at practice. “We hope he’ll be ready to go.’’
Players sent to IR during the season aren’t allowed to practice for six weeks, though Harry has been a constant presence in the locker room and is often working with trainers on the rehab field during the team’s practice windows.
Harry can practice but isn’t allowed to return to the active roster until after Week 8, so the first game he could play would be the Sunday night contest in Baltimore on Nov 3. As soon as Harry begins to practice he takes up one of the team’s two available designated to return spots regardless of whether he actually plays in a game.
The team would have to activate him within 21 days of his return to the practice field or he would revert to season-ending injured reserve. For example, receiver Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice in 2017 but was never deemed healthy enough to activate.
Belichick said Harry has “been able to keep up with everything,” likely meaning the muscular 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pounder has been a regular attendee at team and positional meetings and film sessions.
“It’s just physically, he needs to be able to show that he can go out there and participate competitively and at the practice level that we’re at,’’ said Belichick. “Hopefully, that’s where he’ll be, but we’ll make our final evaluations on that before we put him out there.’’
Harry’s return could help reinforce a band of pass catchers that has taken its share of lumps this season. Phillip Dorsett missed Thursday’s win over the Giants with a hamstring injury and Josh Gordon was knocked out for the second half because a knee injury.
Those injuries forced the Patriots to play virtually the second half in a single personnel package that featured undrafted rookie receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski.
Additionally, Julian Edelman has been battling a lingering chest injury, though it certainly hasn’t slowed him. He had nine catches for 113 yards against the Giants.
Josh McDaniels said Harry’s performance on the practice field will determine what course the team takes.
“I think the fairest thing to do for any young player, especially a guy that’s missed as much time as N’Keal has missed, is we have to get him back on the practice field. We have to make smart decisions about when he’s ready to do what,’’ said New England’s offensive coordinator. “Certainly, to put a player back in a position to say, ‘Hey, do everything, and do it well, and do it all well under pressure, and do it all well under pressure against seven different defensive looks that you might get,’ and different personnel on the field each week that he hasn’t necessarily played against — I think there’s things that hopefully we can build into and do quicker than others. I think the practice field and the results we get on the practice field will tell us when the right time is to use him in different roles.’’
Brady: No lobbying
While Rob Gronkowski and Robert Kraft last week hinted that the door to a possible return is still ajar, Tom Brady won’t be making any pitches to his former tight end.
“Look, I love the guy. I am so happy that he’s enjoying his time. I am happy that he’s enjoying his life,’’ the quarterback said during his weekly appearance on WEEI. “He seems to really be doing a lot of great things. He knows how I feel about him. I want what is best for him. He’s the only person that can make those decisions. I don’t lobby for those things.’’
Along those lines, Brady also said he wouldn’t be politicking for trade deadline additions. He said his sole focus will be on playing quarterback.
“I have said this before: The one position I am in is [Belichick] and I always talk football,’’ Brady said. “We have built a relationship for 20 years about our team and when he asks I certainly have opinions and so forth, but I like I have said before, that is not my role. I think there is part of me that — from my standpoint — I am a player. I am a player like everyone else. I am not in a position where I make authoritative decisions, so you can’t become attached to making authoritative decisions because then you just get disappointed when those things are out of your control.’’
McDaniels acknowledged the fullback position has “certainly been a big part of what we’ve done” but he said if the team doesn’t have one (James Develin is on IR and Jakob Johnson will soon join him there), the offense will have to adjust just like it would if it lost a player during a game. “You have to adjust and you use what you have left,’’ he said. “There’s always a way to move the ball. There’s always a way to take care of a football. There’s always a way to try to score points with what you have and in terms of your personnel groupings. So, that’s the mentality you have to take, whether it be fullback, tight end, receiver, whatever the position is that we’re a little light in.’’