Damien Harris was drafted by the New England Patriots in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft. The Alabama running back did not see much action last season, much to the chagrin of many Patriots fans. Harris in 2020, however, is a completely different story.
Harris is now getting a heavy workload at camp due to Sony Michel, and newcomer Lamar Miller on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. The increased workload has been good for Harris, and he’s making the most out of this opportunity.
“It’s been good,” Harris said yesterday on a conference call. “It’s given me an opportunity to improve. That’s what I think is most important, coming in and showing that I can be dependable, I can be competitive, I can play the game at a high level.”
Harris is confident in his ability to be a versatile back in this offense, but also very humble. He made a nice one-handed catch in Tuesday’s practice but downplayed the nice grab when asked about it.
“Football is more than just one good play,” Harris said. “Every single day, we want to go out there and string together as many good plays as possible.” Harris went on, sounding like a true New England Patriot. “Every day I want to do everything I can to improve, to make myself a better player for this team. It’s not about one play. It’s about making play after play after play, being dependable, being accountable and developing that consistency that can hopefully show up on Sundays.”
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Harris was a versatile running back in college, a solid pass protector who can pound the rock and catch passes. The Alabama product had two 1,000 yard rushing seasons in his sophomore and junior year. He had a career-high in receptions during his senior year.
New England could use a versatile back on early downs. The team became predictable, Sony was always a run play, while White was a pass play. Harris could be the answer to this problem in 2020. During Monday’s practice, the offense went no-huddle with Cam Newton, and Harris ended up with four receptions on six targets.
Ivan Fears, the running backs coach has done great things with running backs over the years. He now has Harris, who he has been regularly complimenting. The thing about Harris is his creativity, he’s a guy who can bounce it outside with quick sudden cuts. Harris has also shown the ability to slip through tackles or put his head down and be physical.
One thing to watch for with the Patriots and Harris is how they will coach him. New England typically teaches north-south style running, trying to limit negative plays at all costs. Harris, however, from what I’ve seen, can and will improvise on occasion.
Harris of course will listen to whatever coaching instructions are given to him, but I hope they allow him to rely on his natural instincts when needed. The combination of Fears, Belichick, and Harris working together will bring out the best results for the sophomore RB.
As camp moves along, Harris is going to continue to get better. Should Michel be ready for the start of 2020, Harris might already be in position for serious playing time, if not the starting role.
-Michael Quilty is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @boston_sp0rts20