The Patriots players were off on Monday, an extended break after Thursday night's victory over the Giants that moved the team to 6-0 on the season, but the team was still active according to two reports that have the team preparing for rookie N'Keal Harry to start practicing this week, along with the return of Ben Watson.
According to a report from Ian Rapoport, Harry will hit the practice field this week after opening the year on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Harry saw plenty of action the first week-plus of training camp, but was hurt in the first preseason game and was limited for the rest of the summer. Harry will be eligible to return to game action in two weeks if all goes according to play.
Bill Belichick was asked about Harry on Monday's conference call and said Harry has been able to stay involved mentally.
"I mean, he’s been able to keep up with everything," said Belichick. "It’s just physically, he needs to be able to show that he can go out there and participate competitively and at the practice level that we’re at. Hopefully that’s where he’ll be, but we’ll make our final evaluations on that before we put him out there."
Offensive coordinator expanded on how Harry might be incorporated into the attack at this point.
"The goal will be for him the same as it is for each one of our other players – let’s try to put him in positions to do something he does well on game day," said McDaniels. "And if we’re doing that, then we’re being fair to the player and giving him an opportunity to go out there and play fast and be aggressive, which is the goal. Because all our guys, they’ll do the best they can when they’re confident in the things we’re asking them to do and that they can play fast without thinking and go out there and do their jobs. We’re going to try to figure out what that is as quick as we can."
With Mike Giardi of NFL Network reporting that Matt LaCosse suffered a sprained MCL against the Giants, it will open the door for Ben Watson to return after the team released him last week as he came off suspension per a report from Field Yates of ESPN. Watson's return will be a welcome one as players glowed about the kind of person the tight end was behind scenes.
Combined, the additions of Watson and Harry are just the kind of boost the offense could use. They've been inconsistent this season and struggled to run the ball effectively in key spots. With Watson's experience, he should help offense both in the passing and running game, given the modest production the team has received so far from the position.
With Jakob Johnson reportedly headed for IR with a shoulder injury, it will open up a roster spot for Watson that didn't exist last week.
As for Harry, he has a long way to go as all rookies do, but his size and strong hands should be a welcome addition to the offense. He had plenty of slot experience in college and was effective running outside routes this preseason. The biggest key? Just staying healthy and stacking success until he can become a valuable contributor down the stretch.
McDaniels was excited to get back work with the rookie.
"N’Keal flashed the things we’ve seen from him. He’s a big guy that can go up and catch the ball. He’s a tough guy to get to the ground when he has the ball in his hands. At the same time, like all young receivers, there’s a lot of nuances to playing that position in our league that are critical to being a good player – releasing at the line of scrimmage, top of the route technique, finishing plays against tight coverage. Those are things that are all going to come with experience and repetition, and it’s exciting to have an opportunity to continue to work with him."
Adding two weapons, at least with limited experience in the offense and with Tom Brady, is a solid move at this point in the season, especially as injuries struck at receiver and tight end against the Giants.