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Health is the key for Patriots running back Sony Michel entering his fourth season

Related: Patriots roster breakdown: RB Sony Michel

NFL: New England Patriots Minicamp Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Sony Michel is in his fourth training camp since arriving in the NFL, but it is his first without any acute medical concerns. The New England Patriots running back missed time in 2018 after suffering a knee injury, and had to start both his 2019 and 2020 camps on the physically unable to perform list.

So far in 2021, however, he has been full-go. Michel participated in all 15 training camp practices so far without any visible limitations, and also played 13 snaps during the preseason opener versus the Washington Football Team last week. He carried the football six times for 26 yards while serving as the team’s second early-down option behind projected RB1 Damien Harris.

All of this is a welcome development for a player who missed considerable time due to injury in the past. Michel himself also appears to be pleased about where he currently is at from a physical perspective.

“It feels good,” he said following Tuesday’s joint training camp practice with the Philadelphia Eagles. “And that’s all that it’s about in this league: trying to stay healthy, trying to feel good as much as you can. Once you can do that, you can be your full self.”

So far, Michel has had a hard time being his full self. Not only did he miss time during all three of his training camps so far, he also had some minor in-season ailments. In total, Michel missed ten games over the first three years of his career — including seven in 2020 due to quad and Coronavirus issues.

When healthy, though, he has been a productive player for the Patriots. In total, the former first-round draft selection has carried the football 620 times over the course of his career, gaining 2,689 yards for an average of 4.3 yards per run. He also scored 20 rushing touchdowns in a combined 42 regular season and playoff games.

Despite his ailments, Michel also was good in 2020: he ranked second in the NFL among running backs with 75+ carries by gaining 5.7 yards per rush. He also scored the first receiving touchdown of his career.

His receiving game in general is an area where he has room for improvement after seeing only 43 targets so far. As he pointed out on Tuesday, however, he is gaining more confidence as a potential receiving option as well.

“I feel a little bit of confidence each and every year that I’ve been here,” Michel said. “I can definitely say, yes, I feel a little more confident doing my job.”

His ability to stay healthy plays a pivotal role in this. And while no predictions in this area can be made, it seems as if the 26-year-old is on a good way — which is particularly encouraging news given that he finds himself in a contract year: the Patriots declined the fifth-year option in his rookie deal earlier this offseason, meaning that he is headed for unrestricted free agency next March.

Maybe a return to full health can help Michel position himself well with the open market on the horizon. And maybe it might also convince the Patriots to give him another shot.