While Chase Winovich and Jake Bailey certainly stand out on a week-to-week basis there is arguably no player on the New England Patriots’ roster who has made as big a jump from Year One to Year Two in the organization than Damien Harris. The former third-round draft pick saw only a handful of snaps during his 2019 rookie season and started his sophomore campaign on injured reserve, but has since established himself as the Patriots’ lead back.
Since coming back off IR in Week 4, Harris has played 196 offensive snaps — a clear uptick from last year’s five — and carried the football 110 times for 561 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has not just become a key cog in the Patriots’ offensive machinery, but one of the most productive running backs in all of football.
This development did not happen by chance, though, as he was quick to point out during a media conference call on Thursday. In fact, Harris pointed to one player in particular as a mentor: fellow running back James White.
“I think that having a guy like him to look up to has been very helpful in my development as a player,” Harris said about the team captain and most senior member of New England’s running back room. “I really look up to him a lot and he knows that; I tell him every day every chance I get. James White is definitely a guy you can say, ‘Yeah, I want to be like James White when I grow up.’”
White is in his seventh year with the Patriots and third as a captain, and has been instrumental in helping Harris grow from a little-used emergency option to the team’s most prominently featured runner. Seeing Harris shower the 28-year-old with praise did therefore not come as a surprise, and speaks for an often unnoticed impact players can have on each other’s growth off the field.
“I can’t even really put into words how much you can learn from a guy like James White,” said Harris. “First of all, just being a professional, the way that he takes care of his business, the way that he comes to work every single day with a mentality of being a leader and a go-to guy that we can depend on, and he never lets us down. I think that’s obviously a testament to the way that he leads, the way that he approaches the game and just the type of person that he is.”
White doing all of that has not been a guarantee this year.
After all, he suffered a personal tragedy earlier this year: his parents were involved in a car crash in September that killed his father and left his mother in critical condition (she is since on the road to recovery as White himself pointed out). And yet, he returned to the lineup in Week 4 after sitting out two games to continue filling his usual role as the Patriots’ top receiving and third down running back.
As such, White has touched the football 60 times this season for 354 yards from scrimmage as well as two touchdowns — both of which scored during last week’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
“He shows up to work every single day and does his job, does it well, rarely ever makes any mistakes,” Harris said about his teammate. “He is just a guy you can look to and be like, ‘That’s what this team is supposed to be about.’ His toughness, the way he approaches the game mentally, physically, the way he takes care of himself, keeps himself available and then goes out there and does his job.”