New England Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry had a busy practice on Thursday, during the first OTA session open to the media: he led all pass catchers with a total of ten targets during team drills. In general, it was not hard to see why New England felt confident selecting Harry in the first round of last month’s draft: the Arizona State product stood out due to his intriguing combination of size, athleticism and smooth hands.
His on-field skill set is not the only thing that catches the eye, though, as Harry also is actively trying to improve as a receiver — and the early results appear to be encouraging. “I’ve seen myself improve on route-running already within the first three days, so I’m just going to keep listening to him and keep that same approach and that same mindset coming into practice every day,” Harry told reporters after Thursday’s session.
What does he do to foster that development and keep improving? For one, the rookie is taking a close look at one of the best and most productive wideouts there is in the NFL right now: Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman. Harry is expected to play a major role in New England’s offense alongside the veteran, and he is taking an active approach to learning from one of the best receivers to ever don a Patriots uniform.
“Just following his lead. Just seeing the types of things he does, seeing the way he prepares before practice, after practice. Those are going to be the biggest things. He’s helped me a lot so far,” said the 21-year old about Edelman and the impact he has had on his development up to this point. New England’s number one receiver is not the only man helping Harry get up to speed at the next level: ex-Patriot Troy Brown also is involved in grooming the wideout.
“He’s been helping me a lot with my technique, how to get separation and a lot of those things. He’s been a big help so far,” said Harry about Brown, who joined the Patriots’ coaching staff yesterday to specifically work with the wide receivers. “Coaches have just been trying to show me different techniques to help me get open, so I’m just trying to apply that every day when I come out here. That’s just my job.”
“As a wide receiver, my job is just to get separation, get open and catch the ball. So that’s my main focus every time I step out there on every play I take part in,” continued the rookie. Of course, in order to put himself in a position to be able to do that, Harry also needs the trust of the men throwing him the football — and the best way to earn it is to know a playbook that is regarded as one of the toughest in the entire league.
Harry told CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar that he works closely with Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in order to pick his brain and understand the concepts run by the team. “It’s pretty complex [but] it’s nothing I wasn’t expecting,” Harry said when speaking about the challenge that is learning New England’s playbook. “I knew it’s going to be complex, but it’s just about how much time you put in and how much effort you put into learning.”
“I’m just trying to learn everything. I’m just trying to do my part and do everything I can to help the team win [...] I’m just trying to do whatever I need to do, whatever the coaches ask me to do,” the wide receiver continued. So far — and yes, one practice is the smallest possible sample size — it appears as if Harry is doing all the right things to get himself in a position to becoming a contributor in 2019 and indeed helping the team win.
But no matter happens further down the line, the rookie wideout seems to be pretty happy to be in the position he currently is in. “It’s a dream come true,” Harry said about the transition from student-athlete to NFL player. “This is my job now, this is my profession, so I have to act as such. Off the field I have to do what I need to do: in the playbook, in the film room, and taking care of my body to be a true professional.”
Harry is not only saying what he needs to say, it also looks as if he is doing what he needs to do. His performance on the practice field is therefore not the only aspect about him that is standing out: his willingness to improve does as well.