N'Keal Harry was back at Patriots practice on Tuesday after spending the first six weeks of the season on Injured Reserve. In limited viewing of stretching and one route-running drill, Harry looked healthy and comfortable. The receiver is re-entering the mix as the Patriots continue to look for consistency from their offense and could have an opportunity to give the team the boost they need.
Harry has been a constant around the team despite not being able to take the field for practice. Getting to see two undrafted rookie receivers step in and contribute should help motivate Harry that he too should step up.
Phillp Dorsett, whose locker is stationed next door to Harry's, has kept an eye on him.
"I know I stayed on him," said Dorsett on Tuesday. "Talking to him everyday, just making sure he's in good shape mentally, physically, emotionally. Making sure he's ready to play. Obviously he has some time, he has to catch up. He'll be fine."
Rookie receivers have a notoriously tough time assimilating into the Patriots system, but can Harry be a factor, even after spending the first six weeks rehabbing and only getting two weeks to catch up? He certainly has the kind of skill set the Patriots could use.
In training camp, Harry showed strong hands, good run-after-catch potential and the ability to make contested catches in traffic. While some of his abilities and traits overlap with Josh Gordon, having another outside threat with good size, who can also run out of the slot, would be a useful tool to have.
"N'Keal flashed the things we've seen from him," said Josh McDaniels on Monday's conference call with the media. "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."
Perhaps his most underrated talent is the one that could help the Patriots offense the most - his competitive run blocking. With the team struggling to hit on explosive rushing plays, the addition of a big and aggressive receiver willing to stick his nose in the action could help spring some splashy runs.
Ultimately, as Dorsett pointed out, it's just a matter of Harry getting involved and doing what he does best, potentially making his NFL debut in Baltimore in two weeks.
"We all have one goal, we want to win," said Dorsett. "We know that he knows he can help us win."
It was a busy day at the Patriots first practice after three days off. The new faces were Ben Watson, Eric Tomlinson and N'Keal Harry. Michael Bennett, Josh Gordon and Cody Kessler were the main roster absences.
Per reports from NFL Network, Bennett has been suspended for a week for conduct detrimental to the team. This comes on the heels of Bennett playing a season-low 11 snaps against the Giants. Bennett's status going forward will be something to monitor, whether he's able to return and carve out a more significant role, or if he becomes a distraction who is expendable. Of all the potential trade pieces on the roster, Bennett would seem to hold the most value to other teams and would be a minimal loss for the Patriots, at least as far as playing time has gone so far.
Gordon seemed to avoid a major knee or ankle injury after getting twisted up trying to prevent a touchdown fumble return by the Giants last Thursday night. He looked far better walking through the locker room on Tuesday than he did on Friday, but his status for the Jets game is possibly in doubt.
The team also swapped two practice squad players. Wide receiver Devin Ross and offensive lineman Tyler Gauthier, who was with the team in training camp, joined the team while kicker Younghoe Koo and tight end Jason Vander Laan were out.
Mike Reiss of ESPN also reported that Dan Skipper is headed to the 53-man roster in Houston which will open up another practice squad spot. Players are off on Wednesday, so we'll keep an eye out for a new face on the squad on Thursday.
Locker Room Sound Bites
Terrence Brooks on the love for the game of football inside the Patriots locker room:
"This is a demanding sport, a demanding business pretty much so if you don't love it, it's going to be a hard time for you. That's one thing I do notice out of these guys, everybody's like brothers here, they look out for you, they hold each other accountable. They just want to come to work and get better."
I feel like when I come into the building it's definitely a time to work. Trying to eliminate all distractions really, and just pretty much perfect my craft. Another thing, I'm with a great group of guys here so just following after their lead and just taking advice from them, it's really helped me become a better player. It's awesome to get recognition from the coaches and be able to be trusted on the field, so it's pretty sweet."