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Finger injury puts Patriots running back Damien Harris’ early-season availability in question

Related: Damien Harris remains focused on improvement despite early training camp success

New England Patriots Practice Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With both Sony Michel and free agency acquisition Lamar Miller sidelined, second-year man Damien Harris took on the role as the New England Patriots’ number one running back during the early portions of training camp. He literally ran with the opportunity: Harris was one of the most impressive players all summer and appeared to be well on his way to carve out a prominent role in the Patriots’ new-look offense as an early-down back.

This plan has now been put on hold, however. Harris has been absent from practice ever since Monday, and is reportedly dealing with a hand injury that could even force him to miss New England’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins on September 13: ESPN’s Mike Reiss was the first to report the news, with NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport later adding that the 23-year-old recently underwent surgery on his pinky finger.

Harris’ injury is unfortunate considering that he was in the process of making a significant jump compared to his 2019 rookie season. The former third-round draft pick saw plenty of practice reps during offseason workouts last spring with Michel also missing time due to injury. Harris stepped in as the next man up, but his momentum did not carry into training camp and the regular season — possibly because of a wrist injury that limited him.

In part because of the issue, the rookie had no impact to speak of as a rookie. He made the Patriots’ active roster on just two of a possible 17 occasions last year — he was a healthy scratch 13 time 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. Harris finished his rookie season with four touches and a combined 12 yards gained on the ground.

His training camp performance over the last couple of weeks was therefore an encouraging and welcome sight for the team.

“Damien has had a really good camp,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio earlier this week. “He came to camp in very good condition. He’s taken a lot of reps, he’s handled everything in the running game and passing game very well, which he did last year. I think everybody had a lot of confidence in him but they’ve all gained a lot more in him just because of his consistency and dependability.”

The injury itself, meanwhile, has to be seen as a disappointment for a player who also mentioned dependability during one of his media availability sessions last month.

“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,” said the Alabama product about his training camp performance two weeks ago. “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.”

With Harris now possibly unavailable until after the start of the regular season, the Patriots will have to turn to third-year man Sony Michel as their lead back again. They also have the aforementioned Lamar Miller available after reactivating him off the physically unable to perform list just earlier this week, as well as fellow change-of-pace back Rex Burkhead. James White will continue to serve as the Patriots’ receiving back, with J.J. Taylor a possible candidate to offer depth on the practice squad.