Running back Sony Michel had a strong rookie season for the New England Patriots. The team’s second-round pick out of Georgia totaled 932 rushing yards on 209 carries, appearing in 13 games.
Patriots coaches are looking for Michel, 24, to build on that rookie success, particularly with improvements in the passing game. He only caught seven passes for 50 yards, not posing much of a receiving threat out of the backfield. That’s something the offensive coaching staff was surely looking to change during this spring minicamp, and later in full training camp.
Yet Michel hasn’t been seen during the first two days of minicamp and his absence is beginning to raise questions. If Patriots coaches and players know where the second-year back is, they’re not saying. And if they’re concerned or annoyed by his no-show, there hasn’t been any indication of that.
It’s possible that keeping Michel out of minicamp is part of the plan. He’s dealt with knee injuries going back to his days at Georgia, and such issues cost him three games last season. Patriots coaches may prefer Michel to save his legs for meaningful carries. And it should be noted that knee troubles didn’t limit Michel through the end of the season and during the playoffs. He seemed to get stronger later in the year, rushing for 94 or more yards five times and totaling 18 or more carries six times.
Coaches may also be more interested in seeing how rookie Damien Harris fits into the offense. During his senior year at Alabama, Harris showed talent in the passing game with 22 receptions for 204 yards. An 9.3-yard average out of the backfield could be a nice weapon for the Patriots, providing some big plays. Additionally, Harris excelled in pass blocking with the Crimson Tide, something else that could keep him on the field every down.
Michel’s absence certainly provides an opportunity for Harris to get important repetitions and showcase his skills. If the intention is to keep Michel fresh and develop Harris to share the workload at running back, there’s probably no need for concern out of Patriots camp.
Yet as strong a runner as Michel was last season, his limitations in the passing game puts handcuffs on the Patriots’ offense. If he’s in the backfield, defenses know he’s likely getting the ball on a running play rather than a pass route. When Tom Brady needed to throw to someone out of the backfield, the ball often went to James White and sometimes Rex Burkhard or James Develin.
For what it’s worth, Michel averaged 16 receptions per season in four years at Georgia. So he’s apparently not uncomfortable catching the ball. Putting in minicamp work would help Michel become more familiarized with the passing game and develop trust with Brady. There’s surely a reason Michel was only targeted for passes 11 times last season. Missing all of preseason last year surely put him behind in that facet of the Patriots’ offense and he’s not making up for that now.