With all the success Sony Michel enjoyed as a rookie last season, it might be hard to remember that he missed nearly all of last summer with a knee injury that required surgery during training camp.
As one of New England's two first-round draft choices in 2018, Michel went on to start half of the Patriots regular season games, missing just three due to injury. He racked up 931 rushing yards (averaging 4.5 per carry) and scored six touchdowns. During the playoffs, he added 336 more yards on the ground (4.7-yard average) while equaling his regular-season TD total with another half-dozen scores, including the lone end zone appearance of the game in Super Bowl LIII.
"It was exciting to be able to do that last year," Michel acknowledged after practice, "and as you all know, it's a new season. I'm focusing on what we're going to try to accomplish this year. Right now, it starts in training camp."
However, Michel needed additional surgery during the offseason, which caused him to sit out spring practices and start 2019 training camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP). Saturday, the first day the Patriots could put on full pads this summer, Michel joined his teammates in uniform and took part in drills throughout the 90-minute session.
"Feels good, just working on getting it stronger. I'm out here practicing. I'm ready to go," he exclaimed later. "The repetition that I need to practice will help me translate it over to the games. It will be very beneficial."
While Michel clearly added a potent dynamic to New England's rushing attack, he was underutilized in the passing game, perhaps due to all the time he missed last summer. At one point during Saturday's practice, during a special teams period, Michel spent time working on his receiving skills with QB Tom Brady.
"Just another opportunity for me to get better at another aspect of my game," Michel remarked when the subject came up with reporters. "I would say from all aspects of the game, not being in training camp – you know, training camp plays a big part in development going into the season, and I'm thankful to be in this training camp and excited to take it day-by-day."
The second-year ball carrier also admitted that he has set personal goals for himself this season, but wouldn't detail exactly what those might be. All he'd reveal is that "There's still much to be learned, still growth to be made. That's my biggest focus right now."
Caserio clears the air
For the first time since the Houston Texans attempted to lure Nick Caserio away from Foxborough, the Patriots director of player personnel addressed reporters' questions on the subject.
Prior to taking the field for Saturday's full-pads practice, Caserio met briefly with the media inside Gillette Stadium. The line of questioning eventually turned to that weeklong episode in mid-June when it appeared Caserio might be interested in leaving New England for the open general manager's position with the Texans.
However, Caserio is reportedly under contract with the Patriots through the conclusion of this season and the 2020 NFL Draft. As such, New England denied Houston's request to speak formally with Caserio. The Texans also tried to pursue Caserio the previous offseason and were not allowed to interview him.
"I love being here," Caserio emphasized Saturday, "and right now we're focused on trying to get the team ready for this season. I'm happy to be here and I love what I do on a day-to-day basis. I'm pretty honored and privileged to be in the position I'm in, to work for this organization. It's a great organization with a lot of great people.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity that I have each day to come to work and come into this building. We've got a lot of great people. I'm fortunate and honored to work with Bill [Belichick] on a day-to-day basis and a lot of other people in this organization. My job is really just to serve the people that are in this building and… be the best version of myself for this team and this organization."
Asked if he would eventually like to have a general manager's title with an NFL team, Caserio answered unequivocally.
"Honestly, it's more important for me – I mean, you guys see me after practice – to try and be the best husband, the best father to my kids... I'm not really focused on the hypotheticals. I'm focused on today, on this football team, and that's where it's always going to be."
A number of former Patriots luminaries appeared on the sidelines at Patriots practice Saturday. Former safety and now NBC football analyst Rodney Harrison, of course, is being inducted into the team's Hall of Fame Monday evening. Willie McGinest, the former linebacker, returned as part of his NFL Network analyst duties. ESPN's Randy Moss, a 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, turned up as well, but apparently not in an official capacity. He revealed after practice that he simply came back to catch up with his former teammates, coaches, and others in the organization.
Yet, Moss couldn't resist sharing his thoughts on Harrison.
"When I first got here as a Patriot [in 2007]," the retired wide receiver began, "we worked so hard during the week that we made it look easy on Sunday. If there's one guy I can show some love to, it's Rodney Harrison because he made the defense and the offense pick up. We went undefeated [in the regular season] that year. I think a lot of it had to do with Rodney and understanding what we had to do week in and week out.
"Rodney Harrison was that player, if you did not come [prepared] to practice every single day, he would embarrass you. For me and Rodney, being able to cross paths as Patriots, we have the utmost respect for one another. He brought the best out in me and hopefully I brought the best out in him."
Although he never played alongside Ty Law, Moss spoke highly of the former Patriots cornerback, who'll join him in Canton next weekend.
"The one word you always hear me talk about it respect. Ty Law was the type of corner that played in the Patriots system that really wasn't considered a shutdown, lockdown corner, but at the end of the day, he locked up whatever [No. 1] receiver was out there. So, you have to take your hat off to Ty Law, what he accomplished, and now being able to put on a gold jacket [given to Hall of Fame inductees]… I'm happy for him, happy for the Patriots."
Buy: N'Keal Harry – Through his first three days of training camp, the top pick in New England's 2019 draft class has shown the ability to make tough catches with defenders draped on him. He's hauled in at least one such catch for a touchdown during team period drills in each of the first three days.
Sell: Michael Bennett – We've still not seen Bennett on the field this summer, and Caserio confirmed Saturday that the veteran defensive lineman has been excused thus far for personal reasons. What those might be remain unclear, but they've cost Bennett some valuable practice time already.
Play of the Day: During an 11-on-11 period, QB Tom Brady launched a precision strike deep downfield to WR Phillip Dorsett, who appeared to have a step on two defensive backs. When the ball arrived, it hit Dorsett squarely in the hands, but both J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty arrived simultaneously and one or both of them knocked the ball loose from Dorsett's grasp. What could have been a sizeable gain for the offense ended up with an incompletion, but it was a spectacular recovery by the two defenders, whom Dorsett had split and seemed to have beaten.