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Despite a lack of a running game, rookie Damien Harris can’t get on the field for the Patriots

Patriots running back Damien Harris had limited action against the Jets Oct. 21.file/Steven Ryan/Getty Images

BALTIMORE — Damien Harris is still waiting. The Patriots rookie running back was inactive yet again Sunday night against the Ravens, meaning he’ll go into the team’s Week 10 bye having played few meaningful snaps this season.

According to running backs coach Ivan Fears, that doesn’t say much about what Harris has or hasn’t been doing. It’s just that the Patriots would rather play their more experienced running backs – Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White and Brandon Bolden, the group they went with against the Ravens.

“He’s looked good, he’s made the right reads, he’s run hard,” Fears said of the 2019 third-round draft pick.


He was mostly going off practice performance because, as Fears said, Harris hasn’t gotten much opportunity since the preseason.

Harris has seen the field on offense in just one game — Week 7 against the Jets — in garbage time after Michel went out with a minor injury. Harris carried the ball four times for 12 yards. He was active for the other Jets game in Week 3, but didn’t play a snap on offense.

“He’s been very good here through the year,” Fears said. “He ran well. He’s just waiting his turn.”

Fears was asked if there’s a specific reason Harris hasn’t played much. Often with rookie running backs, the concern is with their ability to pass protect, but it’s not as if Harris has gotten opportunities. Fears said it’s much simpler than that.

“Because the other guys are healthy,” he said. “Can’t play them all. Sorry.”

Burkhead and White were on the injury report before the Ravens game but were healthy enough to play.

It’s not unusual for the Patriots to sit a player for much of his rookie season. White was only active for three games as a rookie in 2014. Shane Vereen played in five games in his first season in 2011. The same thing is happening to 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams, who has played in three games so far, only two on defense.


The reason Harris’s case is getting more notice, though, is that the running game hasn’t been good. It’s easier to understand why Williams can’t get on the field — because he’s behind a superlative set of cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson.

It’s also more notable because of Michel’s lingering health concerns — one possible view of the Patriots’ drafting of Harris was as insurance for Michel, not just in the case of injury, but as a means of taking some workload off the second-year back to keep him relatively fresh.

But according to Harris’s position coach, there’s nothing wrong with waiting.

Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.