FOXBOROUGH — Rookie Damien Harris treated his first offensive snaps as an NFL running back as if it were any other.
“I wasn’t nervous or excited,” Harris said. “I don’t want to make the moment any bigger than it is. I don’t want to hype myself up or get so excited that I go out there and can’t think.”
Against the Jets Monday, Harris logged four carries for 12 yards. The rushes were his first as a Patriot, coming in the final minutes of New England’s 33-0 victory. The game marked just the second time Harris has been active this season, as the 22-year-old Alabama product usually has been one of the team’s seven inactive players.
In the only other game he was active, Week 3 against the Jets, Harris participated in five special teams snaps but none in the backfield. Despite the limited game action, coach Bill Belichick still seems pleased with his development.
“Damien has gone a good job for us,” Belichick said. “It was good to see him get a little action against the Jets [in Week 7]. We have pretty good depth at that position, so we’ll have to see how that goes, but he’s done a good job. I’m glad we have him.”
Harris, who rushed for 1,000 yards in two of his four college seasons under coach Nick Saban, called the transition to the NFL “tough.”
“This is a professional league,” he said. “Everything is harder. Learning is harder, the people you’re going against is harder. There’s a lot more challenges, but you just have to continue to improve every single day.”
The list of challenges for Harris goes beyond finding holes in the defense or stiff-arming oncoming tacklers. To become a viable three-down back, he must be able to protect the quarterback as well.
“Pass protection is a huge part of being a running back and playing in this league,” Harris said. “Coming in, that’s one thing they introduce to you first. It’s something you have to do in order to be on the field.”
The coaching staff has countless drills dedicated to building the necessary skills, but Harris said he also has turned to a group chat of former Alabama players to seek out advice. Regardless of what he is trying to work on, Harris said his goal is to never repeat mistakes and never have a coach have to tell him something twice.
Although fellow back Rex Burkhead (foot) has remained limited in practice, Harris noted he’s not focused on the depth chart or playing time.
“All I worry about every single day is improving as a player and doing whatever this team needs me to do,” he said. “If my name or number ever gets called, I try to be as ready as I can. As far as worrying about, ‘Am I going to play or am I not going to play?’, this, that, those are things I don’t have time to worry about.”
There was a special guest at Gillette Stadium Saturday morning.
Quinn Miller, a 12-year-old girl who plays football for the Darlington Braves in Pawtucket, got to meet cornerback Stephon Gilmore and owner Robert Kraft. Miller’s mother had spoken out last week about how her daughter is bullied at school for her involvement with the football team, saying there are days where she doesn’t want to go to school.
Gilmore gifted Miller with three tickets to the Patriots Hall of Fame as well as three tickets to Sunday’s game against the Browns. Miller, who wears No. 24 and sometimes plays cornerback, will get to watch Gilmore face off against Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The matchup should be competitive, Gilmore said, highlighting Beckham’s speed, explosiveness, and route-running ability.
“He can make big catches,” Gilmore said. “You got to prove yourself every week. That’s the fun part about it.”
Watching the Celtics
Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley attended the Celtics’ home opener against the Toronto Raptors Friday night at TD Garden. Bentley is close with rookie point guard Carsen Edwards, although Edwards did not get into the game. Running back Sony Michel and defensive tackle Adam Butler also were in attendance. Michel was the lone player to earn face time on the center-court video board, drawing loud applause.
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at nicolecyang.