The Cleveland Browns, who were forced to send multiple members of their running back room to the Covid-19 reserve list earlier this week, are not the only team heading into Week 10 with questions at the position. The New England Patriots, Cleveland’s opponent, find themselves in a similar situation albeit for different reasons.
New England lost its top-two running backs — Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson — to injury during last Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers. Both exited the game in the fourth quarter after sustaining head injuries on the same drive: Stevenson was slow to get up after an 11-yard carry; Harris remained on the ground after a hard collision just six plays later.
Both were announced as questionable to return and placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol. Their status for Sunday’s game against Cleveland is therefore very much in question, something running backs coach Ivan Fears also acknowledged this week.
“We’re on a wait-and-see program,” Fears said during a media conference call on Tuesday. “These protocols can take a few days to figure out what they’re going to do with them. It’s a big question mark. Definitely a big question mark.”
With two of their running backs in the concussion protocol, the Patriots are left with only two healthy players at the position: veteran Brandon Bolden and second-year man J.J. Taylor, who have a combined 35 carries so far this season. For comparison, that is the same number as Stevenson has and a far cry from Harris’ 133.
If the two do not get cleared ahead of Sunday’s game, however, Bolden and Taylor will be the one-two punch in New England’s backfield.
Obviously, though, the Patriots could always look at add another back via their practice squad. At the moment, only 14 of the 16 spots are filled — meaning a player like Ito Smith, who was in town for a free agency workout earlier this season, could be an option to be brought aboard. Still, the situation is far from ideal.
Fears, however, is confident that the team will be ready for the upcoming game against Cleveland regardless of what happens with Harris and Stevenson.
“We’ll have things in place,” he said. “We’re definitely talking about it and are ready to move, based on what they tell us. But we’ll have to wait and see, for sure.”