Five times during Wednesday’s minicamp practice, Maurice Harris saw a football thrown his way. Five times, he caught it. What looks like a relatively insignificant achievement during an early-June workout session in a rather unchallenging environment is much more than that: it is further proof that the wide receiver should not be slept on as a candidate to potentially carve out a role on the New England Patriots’ 2019 roster.
After all, Harris also looked solid during Tuesday’s practice and saw plenty of reps amidst the presumed starting offense on both practice days so far. At one point during Wednesday’s session, the 26-year-old was even targeted on three consecutive plays in 11-on-11s — with none other than Tom Brady throwing him the ball each time. In general, the Brady-Harris connection has been productive through two days worth of practices.
No other player has caught as many passes from the future Hall of Famer during team drills as Harris, after all, who was the recipient of seven of Brady’s throws in such situations. This is nothing special for the first-year Patriot, however. Instead, it is part of the process as he pointed out after his second minicamp practice. “I think it’s good to get to experience the repetitions, and getting out there,” said Harris on Wednesday.
“I think the best thing is being out there, being able to go through it in a kind of real-game situation/simulation — just to get a feel for it. Obviously, I still have a lot of learning to do and improving, but it feels good to be out there getting reps,” continued the pass catcher, who faced an unsure future just three months ago: Washington declined to tender the restricted free agent in March, which in turn made him hit the open market.
This allowed the Patriots to scoop him up, though. Two days into free agency, they signed the 6-foot-3 wide receiver to a comparatively modest one-year contract — one that still reflects his standing on the team despite his current string of solid practice performances: Harris has to earn a spot on a crowded but somewhat unproven wide receiver depth chart this summer, or else New England won’t be afraid to cut ties with its offseason investment.
What should help Harris earn a job with the Patriots is his versatility: during the three workout sessions that were open to the media so far this offseason, New England used him on the boundary and in the slot, in the return game and in a Cordarrelle Patterson-type role on misdirection plays. For Harris himself, moving around the formation and playing different roles on the team does not present a problem, though.
“Wherever they want to put me, I’ll try to go and do it,” Harris said when speaking about his diverse skill-set and his usage by the team up to this point. “A lot of people think that taller receivers aren’t supposed to be in the slot, but I feel comfortable all over the field — wherever I can be to help the team [...] Whatever they call, wherever we line up, I’ll try and go out there and execute it and try and do it to the best of my ability. Whatever I can do to help.”
This mindset certainly is a welcome one in New England — and it goes beyond Harris’ willingness to line up in various spots and roles. The former undrafted free agent also is aware of the fact that it is all part of a learning process: “I think each day is a learning process for me, since I’m new,” said Harris on Wednesday. “I’m just taking it one day at a time, picking up on things here and there and just learning as I go.”
So far, this has led to him getting some recognition in practice. And if Harris can build on that and further grow his chemistry with Tom Brady, it will be hard for the team to leave him and his diverse skill set off the roster come decision time.