When the story of the 2019 New England Patriots gets written, Damien Harris will come up only as a footnote. Despite being selected in the third round of the draft last spring, the Alabama product saw only minimal action during his rookie season while serving as the last layer of depth on one of the deepest running back groups in the NFL.
Heading into his second year in the Patriots’ system, however, Harris seems determined to change his status.
The circumstances certainly favor him in this regard, and have allowed him to become one of the team’s most impressive players through the first two days of full-pads training camp sessions this summer. With top early-down back Sony Michel and veteran free agency acquisition Lamar Miller both on the physically unable to perform list, Harris was given top billing whenever the Patriots worked on the running game over the last two practices. He has taken advantage of the opportunity.
The 23-year-old, however, pointed out that his job would not be to evaluate his own performance but rather to keep getting better.
“I’m not here to self-assess,” Harris said during a media conference call after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m just here to improve and to continually get better, so that the coaches will think those kind of things and they can evaluate that. My job is not to evaluate myself or anybody else on the team. My job is to go out there and work as hard as I can to become a better football player.”
So far in camp, Harris has done just that. He has patiently allowed his blocks to develop, looked decisive when it comes to making cuts and hitting the holes, and also did what especially Michel has not yet been able to accomplish during his pro career: see regular action as a receiving option. On Tuesday, for example, Harris registered an impressive one-handed catch on a pass from quarterback Cam Newton — one of eight receptions for him over the last two days of work.
“It’s been good. It’s given me an opportunity to improve,” said Harris about his increased workload. “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. So, I just want to come in here and improve every single day no matter what is asked of me. Whatever coaches need me to do, I’m going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability.”
Doing precisely that early in camp has put Harris in a position to possibly carve out a prominent further down the road regardless of Michel’s medical status (the former first-round pick is recovering from offseason foot surgery). At the very least it has given him plenty of chances to put plays on film for the coaches to evaluate — and to become a more consistent member of the team’s new-look offense.
“Every single day, we want to go out there and string together as many good plays as possible and develop some consistency as a team,” Harris said. “That’s our mindset. 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.”
The only consistency Harris had during his rookie season was his inability to get onto the field week-in and week-out. He made the Patriots’ active roster on just two of a possible 17 occasions — he was a healthy scratch 13 times and also missed a pair of contests in mid-November due to a hamstring injury — and played a mere 10 snaps between offense and special teams while touching the football only four times all season long.
Preparing for Year Two, however, Harris is not worried about his lack of playing time in 2019. Instead, he is looking to the future while remaining focused on himself.
“My biggest concern is to get myself mentally and physically prepared to do whatever it takes for me to help this team be successful day-in and day-out,” he said. “Every single aspect of my game, whatever the coaches tell me, that’s what I’m here to work on. I want to do everything I can to try to be a dependable player for this team.”