Examining roller-coaster start to training camp for N’Keal Harry


FOXBORO — There was a popular show tune from the 1920s, “I’m just wild about Harry,”  but a week into Patriots training camp not many people are wild about rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry.

It’s been an up-and-down first week of the summer for Harry with more downs than ups, but fortunately for him the majority of the ups occurred in Thursday’s session. 

Let’s start at the beginning. 

Expectations for Harry have been through the roof considering he was the first wide receiver ever taken in the first round by the Patriots under Bill Belichick. And with what the wide receivers depth chart looks like at the moment, it’s apparent the offense needs Harry to succeed.

Being a rookie and learning a NFL offense is hard enough, but even more so when Tom Brady is your quarterback and expectations are so high.

Harry made a number of mistakes in the first couple sessions, mostly dropped passes, and routine ones at that. On top of those physical issues, he was also making mental mistakes like lining up in the wrong spot. On one occasion, he lined up wrong on two plays in a row causing the entire offense to run a lap.

In Monday’s in-stadium practice, he dropped a routine pass from Brady when the offense was competing against air and no defense at all. 

That seemed to be a clue that Harry was doing so much thinking about processing the offense and making sure he was lining up and doing what he was supposed to, that he just wasn’t focusing on perhaps the most important thing, which is actually catching the ball.

This is fairly normal for rookies, and we’ve seen it with quarterback Jarrett Stidham — still working on fully grasping the offense by holding the ball too long in the pocket. Just like Stidham is going through his reads, Harry has been going through making sure he does everything he’s supposed to on a given play.

It should be noted the Patriots haven’t played a preseason game yet and the regular season isn’t for another five-plus weeks. There’s still plenty of time to get it right and the good thing for Harry is he’s showed flashes of who he can be and why he was selected No. 32 overall.

Thursday was a perfect example of that, as Harry had his best practice of the summer.

He made a pretty diving grab in 11-on-11 work and then hauled in a 50-yard pass from Brian Hoyer when he beat Joejuan Williams up the sideline. Harry got up and celebrated, which had to have been a good feeling after all the frustrations with dropping passes. Even with the struggles, Harry has showcased his talent when it comes to going up and competing for the football, as that has been when he’s been at his best.

Harry even showed off his physicality and competitiveness when he blocked linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley into the ground on a play, which seemed to get under Bentley's skin and the two needed to be separated.

“A big kid that runs well,” Bill Belichick said earlier this week. “Good catch radius. Very strong, physical receiver. He has a long way to go ... but he’s gotten better every day and been dependable, durable, tough.”

So, while it’s been easy to get on him for the number of drops he’s had, it’s been perhaps even more impressive seeing him bounce back as soon as just a few plays later and not let what happened in the past affect him. 

This is the sign of what has the makings of a good NFL player.

Dropping routine passes during a NFL training camp is never good, but when taking a step back and looking at the big picture when it comes to Harry, they aren’t as bad as many have said. 

He’s a rookie, he’s going to make mistakes. And just because he’s a first-round pick doesn’t mean he’s immune from them.

For as much as Harry has struggled, it’s also important to note Brady has stayed patient with him and while some of the coaches have certainly got on him, the quarterback hasn’t yet to this point. 

While it’s easy to already deem Harry a bust after a week of practice, looking at the big picture and past just the drops paint a slightly different picture of the Arizona State product. Yes, he’s making mistakes, but he appears to be learning from them and at the same time is showing off his natural talent with some pretty impressive catches. It’s important to remember he’s a rookie and it’s going to be an up-and-down ride.

It’s only been a week, give him some time. It most likely will work out just fine.