Patriots RB Camp Competition: Damien Harris joins the run fun

Leading up to the opening of Patriots training camp 2019, will take a position-by-position look at the competition for roster spots and roles this summer in New England.

Running back

Overview: After investing in Sony Michel (first round, 2018) and Damien Harris (third round, 2019) in the last two drafts, New England has added plenty of youthful potential to its backfield committee. The group has impressive depth and versatility, assuming of course that Michel can get/stay healthy and Harris is as NFL-ready out of Alabama as many believe.

Players (season #): Sony Michel (2), James White (6), Rex Burkhead (7), Brandon Bolden (8), Damien Harris (R), FB James Develin (7), FB Jakob Johnson (1), Nick Brossette

Coaching: Ivan Fears is in his 18th season as the New England running backs coach, having also previously worked with wide receivers during what is now a 29-year NFL coaching career. Beyond overseeing the technical aspects of the position and consistently developing young contributors, Fears has generally overseen one of the most tight-knit units on the Patriots roster despite the ever-changing roles and reps within running back committee over the years.

Competition: Michel is coming off a very impressive rookie campaign in which he rushed for 931 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season and was then the key cog in the offense in the playoffs with another 336 yards and six touchdowns on the way to a Super Bowl ring. But Michel dealt with knee injuries a year ago and already had a procedure this spring that sidelined him for minicamp. The rookie Harris is the only other lead back type on the roster, having a couple 1,000-yard season in his Tide career. James White remains one of the top pass-catching backs in the NFL, while Rex Burkhead has proven himself a viable option as both a runner and receiver when he’s been able to stay healthy. Brandon Bolden returns after a year in Miami to serve as a core special teamer and occasional backfield backup option, while the Pro Bowler James Develin remains one of the unsung heroes of the Patriots success in recent years. Beyond Michel looking to take on more of a role in the passing game – he caught just seven passes last season and never looked comfortable in that area – the only real competition would seem to be Harris challenging for playing time and carries.

Prediction: Given that Bolden got $2 million guaranteed to return to Foxborough he would seem to be a lock for the roster. That means that six of the eight players on the roster heading into camp are likely to make the 53-man in September, leaving only Brossette and Johnson – the latter part of the NFL’s international player pathway program – to be trimmed by cutdowns. Barring injury or a trade, what you see now is pretty much what you are going to get from the Patriots running back position this fall. It will be interesting, though, to see if Michel, Harris and the rest are ready to take on an even larger overall role in 2019 given the significant changes (Rob Gronkowski’s retirement) and uncertainty (top pick N’Keal Harry) in the passing game.