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Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore is trending in the right direction after his nagging knee injury

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Barmore entered the 2022 season as a prime candidate to make the famous sophomore jump. The New England Patriots’ second-round draft selection the previous spring, Barmore was coming off an impressive rookie season and appeared to be in line to see an even greater role with one year of experience under his belt.

There have been flashes this season, but the biggest story of his season so far is his injury woes. Barmore hurt his knee in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns, and was subsequently forced to miss the Patriots’ next three games heading into their bye.

While there was some optimism that Barmore would be able to return after what was effectively a four-week break, his comeback had to be postponed: he suffered an apparent setback leading into Week 11. Accordingly, New England sent him to injured reserve — taking him off the active roster and sidelining him for an additional four weeks.

Barmore finally made his return against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 15. And while both that game and the second one since his return both resulted in defeat, the 23-year-old had some positive contributions and appears to have returned to his pre-injury level of play.

“Good to have him back,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick in a conference call earlier this week. “He looks like he’s got his power and explosiveness back. It’s good to have him. You know, each game — he’s played a couple of games — he’s gotten a little bit better. Hopefully he’ll keep trending that way.”

Playing 50 percent of snaps in his return against the Raiders, Barmore’s impact was felt right away.

The game against the Cincinnati Bengals one week later was more of the same. While he was on the field for only 34 percent of New England’s defensive snaps that week — a career-low outside of the Browns game he left prematurely — and did not register any pressure stats in his 28 snaps, Barmore did have an impact.

Take the following play in the second quarter. With the Patriots backing out of their double-mug alignment — i.e. using two stand-up defenders over the A-gaps — the Bengals offensive line zeroed in on Barmore.

He did not make a statistically recognizable impact on this play, but his presence and the respect he commands from the blockers in front of him helped give Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr. better matchups.

With the Patriots set to play a pair of must-win games against Miami and Buffalo over the final two weeks of the season, having Barmore at full strength is certainly a good thing. If playing to his capabilities, after all, he can be a disruptive presence along the interior defensive line and — as was shown in the Cincinnati game — help create opportunities for his teammates.