Patriots: How Damien Harris can steal snaps from Sony Michel

Don’t be surprised if Patriots RB Damien Harris steals snaps from Sony Michel this season.

Patriots fans were thrown for a loop last week when it was reported that running back Sony Michel reported to practice after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list following offseason foot surgery.

Less than 24 hours earlier, however, we were singing Damien Harris’ praises after he was labeled one of the team’s most impressive performers since the start of padded practices.

It was previously speculated that the 2019 third-round pick could be New England’s lead back for Week 1 — that could still end up being the case — but Michel told reporters after his surprise appearance at practice that he should be ready for the start of the regular season.

This really complicates things, but Harris’ confidence shouldn’t waver following the return of his running mate, who has a ton to prove after a poor 2019 campaign. We still fully believe the ‘Bama product could supplant the former first-round pick as the starter. At the very least, the 23-year-old should be able to steal snaps from Michel and here’s how.

Whether it was due to injuries or the overall struggles of the Patriots offense is up for debate (perhaps it was both), but Michel was seriously disappointing last season. In 16 games, he totaled 912 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on a lousy 3.7 yards per carry, the latter of which ranked 40th of 47 qualified running backs, according to ESPN.

As long as Harris continues to impress at practice and prove himself a bruiser instead of an artiste in the backfield, which is something that head coach Bill Belichick values immensely, he should be able to steal touches from Michel. It’s that simple. What also helps the Alabama product’s case, however, is that his hands are extremely reliable. We know James White is the team’s top receiving back, but you can’t sit there and tell us that New England wouldn’t love someone else to step up.

Remember how much Cam Newton loved utilizing Christian McCaffrey as a receiver with the Carolina Panthers? That probably hasn’t changed, so there will be plenty of touches to go around, especially without a trustworthy TE at his disposal.

The Patriots have tried to incorporate Michel into the passing game over his first two years in the NFL, and it’s clear that hasn’t worked out and he isn’t trusted in that facet of the game. Harris didn’t post imposing receiving numbers in Tuscaloosa, but the Crimson Tide rarely make RBs a big component of their passing offense.

Michel has been fed a whopping 456 carries over the last two seasons, but that could easily come down to the fact that the team hasn’t had a viable second option. That could change now that Harris has burst onto the scene at camp. So long as the sophomore RB continues to impress as a runner and shows promise as a receiver out of the backfield, we see no reason why he shouldn’t swipe touches from the Georgia product in 2020.