The New England Patriots may have one of the deepest running back groups in the NFL, but the position still faces some questions heading into the 2020 regular season especially in relation to the early-down role. Training camp standout Damien Harris is not guaranteed to be available come opening day due to a finger injury, while free agency addition Lamar Miller is still trying to shake the rust off after only returning to practice earlier this week.
The team’s projected top option at the position, meanwhile, is also no safe bet to be a full 100 percent come the Patriots’ September 13 game versus the Miami Dolphins: Sony Michel underwent surgery on his foot in May, and had to start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The second-year man did return to practice last week, but his status is still somewhat up in the air after missing a considerable portion of camp.
That said, his position coach does feel confident in Michel’s abilities coming off offseason surgery and the subsequent rehabilitation process.
“He got heavy after the surgery, and he had to get back down. He’s worked on it. He’s worked on it hard and got back to where he needed to be,” said Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears during a media conference call on Wednesday.
Fears has worked with Michel ever since the Georgia product arrived in New England as the 31st overall selection in the 2018 draft. Since then, the veteran coach has seen the young back establish himself as a core member of the team’s offense and its undisputed early-down ball carrier — one who appeared in 33 games for the Patriots over his first two seasons, and played a pivotal role during their Super Bowl run in his first year as a pro.
Along the way, however, he also saw Michel miss some time due to injury. He dealt with knee issues in both of his first two years in the league, and now also had to miss practice time because of the aforementioned procedure on his foot.
That said, Fears’ impression of the 25-year-old is a positive one.
“He’s got fresh legs,” he said about Michel. “We have to beat on him a little bit more first, and then we’ll see what he has going. He’s coming back off after missing the first two-and-a-half, three weeks of training camp. Hell yeah, he’s going to be fresh and quick. His weight is good, no doubt. We’ve worked hard on that. He looks good. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down from the injury, anything along those lines.”
While it remains to be seen how ready Michel really will be for the start of the season — the Patriots’ first injury report of the year will be released next Wednesday, any speculation about his status up until this point is just that — the goal has been set: use the remaining time to get him ready for the Dolphins and his third regular season since arriving in New England.
“We just have to finish getting him ready for a season. That takes a little more beating on,” acknowledged Fears.
Despite Damien Harris looking like a serious breakout candidate over the first two weeks of camp and the team’s generally rotational approach to the running back position — a rotation that also will feature change-of-pace runner Rex Burkhead and receiving back James White extensively — Michel is expected to see plenty of action this year again as the primary early-down back. Him being ready for the season could therefore be vital to New England’s offensive success in its post-Tom Brady era.