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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Tue Oct 04 | 12:00 AM - 11:55 AM

What the Patriots Are Saying About Replacing Ty Montgomery in the Passing Game

The veteran running back was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.

Patriots running back Damien Harris (37).
Patriots running back Damien Harris (37).

The Patriots are already facing some early-season adversity regarding their all-important receiving back role that has thrived in New England for two decades.

During training camp, Patriots legend James White called it a career following a hip injury that knocked him out for most of the 2021 season. Then, after emerging over the summer as a contributor, veteran addition Ty Montgomery suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale.

Montgomery, the clear-cut best option to play out of the backfield on passing downs, gutted it out against the Dolphins in the season-opener, catching three passes for 15 yards and scoring the team's only touchdown. Plus, he was solid in blitz pickup.

The eight-year pro led all Patriots running backs with 17 of his 20 snaps coming on passing downs last week and was the primary backfield option on third down throughout the contest. Montgomery was also the Pats primary kick returner.

Unfortunately, after a successful debut, the Patriots placed Montgomery on injured reserve on Tuesday's transaction wire. Although it's unclear if it's the same knee injury he sustained in Las Vegas, Montgomery will now need to miss at least four games before he can return.

"It's tough to lose Ty, but we have a couple good players there. Then we have young players behind them. So we'll see how it goes. If he's healthy, we'll bring him back. Sure. How that will all turn out, I don't know. We'll see," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Wednesday.

Losing a reliable veteran is a tough blow to an offense that needs players who are grasping the new system, but the Patriots rightfully feel good about their running back depth.

Still, someone will have to take on Montgomery's responsibilities in the passing game and on third down moving forward, so who is his likely replacement?

If the season-opener against the Dolphins is any indication, running back Damien Harris could see more playing time in the passing game. Harris played 12 snaps on passing downs against Miami and caught two passes for ten yards on three targets.

Harris explained to the media on Thursday that not much will change for him and fellow running back Rhamondre Stevenson with Montgomery out of the lineup.

"We just have to go out there and do our jobs. Each player, each individual, as an offense, as a team. Collectively, we just have to go out there and do our jobs. It's unfortunate what happened to Ty, but everybody's got a job to do," Harris said.

Harris was then asked if his role would expand with Montgomery out of the lineup, and he said with a smile, "we'll see on Sunday."

Although the Patriots gave Harris more work in the passing game last week, there is growing optimism throughout the organization that Stevenson could be an impact pass-catcher.

Over the summer, Stevenson said that he worked hard on his skills in the passing game in the offseason so he could increase his usage by running routes out of the backfield.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has publicly praised the young running back for his development in the passing game in his second season, and Stevenson's teammates notice his ability to make plays as a receiver in practice.

"Rhamondre's done a really good job improving his pass game skills, starting with blitz pickup and protection. He's got good hands, catching the ball's never been an issue. It's setting up defenders, recognizing coverages, when to sit down, when to break, depending on what the rest of the pattern is, how to maximize the distribution of the pattern," Belichick said.

Adding to the momentum building for Stevenson's role in the passing game, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers also offered a glowing review of the 2021 fourth-round pick.

"When he first got here, just in practice, I saw him catch a seam out of the backfield. That's like a James White kind of play. But he'll go out there and give you a dead leg, catch a seam, take one to the crib. He's a really talented player," said Meyers.

Ultimately, the coaching staff's decision on who will replace Montgomery in the passing game will likely come down to who they trust the most in pass protection. Along with the optionality of the running back route tree Belichick described, younger players have taken their time getting on the field on passing downs because it's challenging to grasp all the nuances of blitz pickup.

Rookie running back Pierre Strong, for example, was drafted in the fourth round last April, and many think Strong will eventually develop into a pass-catching back for New England. Similarly, practice squad running back J.J. Taylor tried to find a role as a receiving back over the last few seasons.

Strong was a healthy inactive for the season-opener, while Taylor remained on the practice squad. With Montgomery sidelined, either Strong or Taylor will likely be active on Sunday, and it's worth noting that the rookie is dealing with a shoulder injury and was limited in the first two days of practice this week.

Replacing Montgomery has many layers, with a heavy workload already on Harris's shoulder, but the trust factor for younger running backs in the passing game. From this perspective, Stevenson is the most dynamic option as a real threat out of the backfield as we've seen in his limited opportunities in the past.

We'll see in Pittsburgh on Sunday if the second-year running back is ready to take on a complex role.

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