Bill Belichick explains RB Sony Michel’s new role for Patriots

The running back has been seeing the field on special teams.

Sony Michel hasn’t exactly been the Pro-Bowl running back that a first-round pick should in his first three seasons. Since his return from injured reserve prior to Week 12, it’s been Damien Harris receiving a majority of the reps as the New England Patriots’ feature back.

During Sunday’s 45-0 dismantling of the Chargers, Michel did get his fair share of touches. The former Georgia Bulldog rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries and also brought in one tough reception for 23 yards.

However, many noticed that Michel was also doing something a little different, as he was on the field for four snaps on the punt return team. The 25-year-old has only played 40 special teams snaps in 33 snaps, and his four snaps on Sunday doubled his snaps with the unit on the season.

When asked about Michel’s time on special teams, Bill Belichick was quick with an answer.

“Yeah, we had a couple of examples of that on those, on a couple returns — just being a little more cautious there,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “But, yeah, Sony’s always had a role in the kicking game since his rookie year, since we got him, at least as a backup. So, he’s practiced there, he’s worked there and did a good job for us there.

“We’ve kind of been heavy on the roster in terms of defensive backs and wide receivers in the kicking game, and so some of those roles have rolled more to running backs, tight ends, linebackers, and defensive linemen. So, it’s been a combination of different guys and he’s one of them. He’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s tough, so he can handle some responsibilities in that area.”

The decision worked out well for Belichick and the rest of the Patriots, as New England had their best game of the season in terms of punt returns. Michel even set a pick that was integral in Gunner Olszewski’s 70-yard touchdown, a part of the play that cost them the week prior in the form of a penalty on Anfernee Jennings.

Belichick has always preached the importance of special teams, and how there’s no one too good for it. When you have a guy like Julian Edelman playing on special teams, it’s easy to spread that message.

Now that Michel isn’t the feature back, fans may be seeing more and more of him on the special teams units. And, if return touchdowns are going to be the outcome of Michel playing on the return team, it would be tough to see anybody complaining about that, including the man himself.

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Cam Newton says the Patriots anticipate Sony Michel ‘to have so much firepower’

How will Sony Michel fit back in?

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Sony Michel’s absence gave life to Damien Harris’ bid at the No. 1 spot in the New England Patriots’ backfield. And Harris has seemingly stolen Michel’s job. A former first-round pick, Michel had been the Patriots’ between-the-tackles running back since the team drafted him — until Harris’ takeover this season.

Harris has emerged in 2020, and he’s playing better than Michel, which begs the question of how Michel will fit back into the offense now that he’s healthy. Michel and Harris do the same type of work, which should make things complicated as Michel tries to find his way back on the field. But quarterback Cam Newton issued words of encouragement about Michel.

“He’s got fresh legs,” Newton said Wednesday. “And we were anticipating him and just to have so much firepower in that running back room, man. Obviously it’s devastating to hear about Burky but for us, you can’t replace a guy like that. And Sony bringing something that a lot of running backs don’t have — that may be experience, that may be beat playability, that may be just his understanding this offense, and we’re gonna need all of that here moving forward.”

The Patriots activated Michel on Saturday after a stint on injured reserve, but strangely, the team didn’t active him for game day. That didn’t seem like a good sign for him. But on Sunday, New England lost Rex Burkhead to what the running back indicated would be a season-ending injury. So that should open up some snaps for Michel, even if Burkhead was a better pass-catcher than Michel.

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Cody Davis ruled out, Julian Edelman and Sony Michel listed as questionable vs. Chiefs

The Patriots will be without core special teamer Cody Davis vs. the Chiefs.

The New England Patriots will be without core special teamer Cody Davis on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Davis sustained a rib injury in Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders in the fourth quarter. He’s played 80.5 percent of special teams snaps this season (tied for the most) and his absence will be felt.

The Patriots listed Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Isaiah Wynn, Adam Butler and Shaq Mason as questionable. James White, Damien Harris and Gunner Olszewski are all likely to return to the team this week also. The addition of these three players adds much-needed depth in a monumental game for the team.

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4 takeaways from Patriots’ 36-20 momentum-gaining win vs. Raiders

Tough defense, hard-nose running kept the Patriots ahead against the Raiders.

After a rocky start, the New England Patriots walked away with a huge 36-20 momentum-gaining win over the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Patriots had a league-high eight opt-outs, new crop of linebackers, the departure of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still put together a team that can play top-notch football in all three phases. For Cam Newton’s team — the rushing attack was the story of the day against Las Vegas.

Newton didn’t have a spectacular game on the stat sheets, but he was backed up by Rex Burkhead and the running backs. The defense came away with timely fumbles and Darren Waller was irrelevant the entire game.

Rex Burkhead had a career day

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Although there’s a section in here for the running backs — Burkhead deserved his own credit.

Burkhead took on a major role against Las Vegas and finished with a career-high three touchdowns. He had six carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, along with seven catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Burkhead had a team-high ten targets, earning the trust from Newton.

Huge days for running backs

Undrafted rookie free agent J.J. Taylor jumpstarted the day on the ground for New England. Taylor finished the day with 11 carries and 43 yards, but they were much more timely than they sound.

Twitter had some fun with Taylor’s hot start and wanted to immediately demote Sony Michel from his role. Michel reacted quickly to the trash talk and came up with the two longest runs of his career (38 yards, 48 yards).

The Patriots finished the game with 38 carries, 250 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, with 6.6 yards per carry. It was New England’s second game of 200-plus yards this season, with James White and Damien Harris joining the running back crew soon.

Spotty defense saved by fumbles

Looking at the score, it’s easy to say the Patriots had a huge day on the defensive side of the ball. But, the Raiders made it into the redzone early and often. A fumble by Josh Jacobs prevented a score early in the game and timely big-time fumbles were the story of the game.

Derek Carr finished the game with 261 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 75 completion percentage. He was hitting his marks and picked apart New England’s secondary throughout the game. Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards broke through in huge moments with game-changing catches.

These huge fumbles made up for Carr’s solid day.

Defense contained Darren Waller, Josh Jacobs

Waller entered the game as the league’s most productive tight end. He left the game against New England with two catches for nine yards — none of which came in the first three quarters. Belichick put a mixture of Stephon Gilmore and Joejuan Williams on Waller throughout the game.

Jacobs finished the game with 16 carries for 74 yards and a fumble. He didn’t  have a horrible day, but the majority of his yards came in the first half. The Raiders would’ve been better off if they stayed consistently with the rush attack, but they couldn’t keep up with New England’s scoring.

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Why Sony Michel’s college coach thinks he’ll rebound in 2020

“Well, here’s the deal: where is Sony right now? He’s still with the Patriots.”

Sony Michel was struggling in 2019, and perhaps for the first time in his football career.

Coming out of high school, Michel was the USA Today Florida Football Player of the Year, the No. 10 prospect in the nation and the No. 3 running back in the country. After four successful years at the University of Georgia, the Patriots drafted him 31st overall in 2018 after an impressive set of performances in the 2017 College Football Playoff. There aren’t many weak spots when looking at his body of work. At least, there weren’t until last season, when he averaged 3.7 yards per carry with 247 rushes, 912 yards and seven touchdowns.

When Michel went on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to start training camp this year, he opened the door for Damien Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, and Lamar Miller, a last-minute addition for training camp. But Harris suffered a pinky injury and Miller couldn’t get healthy enough to make a successful bid for a roster spot. Michel stands atop the depth chart, but perhaps with more challengers and greater scrutiny than ever.

“Well, here’s the deal: where is Sony right now? He’s still with the Patriots,” former Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt told the Patriots Wire on Tuesday. “So that answers the question on whether you think he still could be the guy or not. So, they may need to block a little. They may need to let him hit the perimeter. He may have his issues too — I don’t know what he was dealing with health-wise. But if there’s space, he’ll get it and make the first guy miss and he’ll make yards after contact. He’s legit.”

The 2020 season should be different for the Patriots offense, as they transition from Tom Brady to Cam Newton. It’s hard to imagine that Brady’s departure could help Michel — and yet there are some silver linings to the addition of Newton. He’s a running quarterback, which may encourage the Patriots to use more designed quarterback runs along with the zone read.

Does Richt think that would help Michel?

“I do. We all know Cam is a dynamic player. He’s a dynamic quarterback,” Richt said. “If they’re truly running a zone read, it’s a form of an option that makes the defense account for the quarterback as a runner, which a lot of times NFL defenses haven’t had to do. … You have to assign someone for the quarterback, which is one less tackler for the back. It allows you to get more blockers downfield.”

Ultimately, Michel’s days as the lead back could be numbered with Harris getting more comfortable in the offense. New England suggested Harris, an Alabama product, was the best player on the draft board, by far, when they went to pick him in 2019. But that didn’t put him in a good position to contribute in his rookie season, with just four carries. Still, he had ample opportunity to contribute during training camp in 2020, and Harris made a solid case to eat into Michel’s touches this year. That won’t happen for at least three weeks, though, with Harris on IR.

But Rich doesn’t see that as a problem. Michel, after all, chose Georgia with the knowledge that he’d be splitting time with Nick Chubb for their entire college careers.

“He wasn’t a huge ego guy that wanted to be the only guy,” Richt said. “He understood the advantages of staying fresh and staying healthy throughout a game, throughout a season, throughout a career. We convinced him that, when you are on the field, what you put on tape is what’s going to decide where you get drafted and what kind of a pro career you’re going to have.”

For at least the first three weeks of the season, Michel will likely get the chance to prove he’s better than what his stats said in 2019 — something that Belichick seemed to believe last year. For at least the first three weeks of the season, Michel will have to prove himself.

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RB Sony Michel returns to Patriots practice amid recovery from foot surgery

Will the Damien Harris hype train come to a screaming halt?

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel returned to practice on Wednesday, an indication he’s coming off the physically unable to perform list, where he started training camp. The day’s workout was an unpadded session, so Michel took the field in a helmet and shells.

He underwent a foot surgery this offseason, and he spent the start of training camp recovering from that injury. It’s the third consecutive season he’s missed time during training camp. The past two years, he missed time with knee injuries. In Michel’s absence this year, running back Damien Harris has gotten a major workload at practice, and he’s been excellent, with contributions as a power runner, pass-catcher and pass-protector.

In 2020, Michel had 247 carries for 912 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry, but Bill Belichick defended the running back in what was clearly a rough second season.

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Report: Sony Michel (foot) may not be ready for Week 1

Yikes.

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel may not be physically ready for Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. That will likely put his starting job in jeopardy for the foreseeable future.

Michel underwent a foot surgery this offseason, and started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. While Michel has started every training camp on the PUP list, he has gotten healthy in time to contribute each season. This year, it may be more complicated, with the Patriots drafting Damien Harris in the third-round of the 2019 draft and the team reportedly signing Lamar Miller in free agency this week.

From Howe:

“Nearly a month before the Patriots’ season opener against the Dolphins, it’s still no sure thing Michel will be ready in time, according to a source. There’s such an uncertain nature in the recovery from any foot surgery that it can be a challenge to predict a defined timeline. But right now, Michel is not on the doorstep.”

Michel’s yards per carry fell from 4.5 yards per carry in 2018 to 3.7 yards in 2019, and it was a testament to a lack of explosiveness from the former first-round pick. He was powerful and found good running room in 2018 while excelling in a highly-functional Patriots offense, which finished its season with a Super Bowl win. Last year, the offense fell apart, and surely, Michel’s lack of efficiency was both a product of and a contributing factor for New England’s issues.

With uncertainty surrounding his health and poor efficiency in 2019, the team is exploring a new option by signing Miller, a 29 year old who has experience serving as a lead back.

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The Lamar Miller signing is truly bad news for Sony Michel and Damien Harris

Bad news for Sony Michel.

The New England Patriots may have added their feature running back, Lamar Miller, for 2020 as a late addition. They signed him to a deal on Monday pending a physical. It’s a bad sign for the running backs on the roster that New England felt needed help.

Running back Sony Michel will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing a foot surgery surgery this offseason. That’s the most obvious reason for this move: New England was down their top back and wanted to explore depth options. But Miller is more than just a depth option: he’s got starter potential, even at 29 years old. He will push Michel for the starting job on early downs.

Michel skidded in 2019, and while Bill Belichick pointed to poor blocking as the reason while the running back’s yards per carry fell from 4.5 in 2018 to 3.7 last year, the running back didn’t make many defenders miss and struggled to break tackles. The elusiveness he flashed in college has looked absent in Michel’s game in the pros, and so he’s left to run with power, which isn’t his natural style at 216 pounds. It doesn’t help that he has made practically zero contributions in the passing game as a receiver. After his lackluster season, which came during a season when Patriots offense had moments of paralysis, his job is open for the taking. Miller’s signing seems to be an indicator of that.

James White will continue to own the role as the team’s third-down back. Rex Burkhead will make his four-down contributions, when healthy. And then that brings us to Damien Harris. Why isn’t he viewed as a suitable replacement for Michel? After all, the Patriots drafted Harris in the third round out of Alabama because the felt he was the best player on the board at the time, according to Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Yet Harris didn’t contribute in 2019 behind Michel. With Michel hurting, the Patriots also felt it necessary to bring in competition for Harris.

There’s no saying if Miller can be the running back he once was. His ACL injury in TK seemed to kill some of his explosiveness. But if he can serve as a competent back as a runner and pass-catcher in 2020, then both Michel and Harris may be in trouble.

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6 biggest strengths on the Patriots’ roster ahead of training camp

Here are the six biggest strengths on the Patriots’ roster heading into training camp.

The New England Patriots are heading into an extremely odd year in 2020 — for many reasons.

Tom Brady’s gone, the coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented circumstances and that’s just to name a couple of them. New England also lost out on key contributors his offseason with Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton, Elandon Roberts and of course, Brady.

For all of these reasons, it’s set up for a peculiar training camp and a lower bar for the Patriots this season. Fortunately, Bill Belichick is still the coach and he happened to collect a former NFL MVP at quarterback under the veteran minimum (Cam Newton if you were wondering).

There are many reasons to believe the Patriots can overcome this adversity and put together a winning season. Here are six strengths the Patriots have on their roster ahead of training camp.

Offensive line

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line will be the most important group for the Patriots in 2020. They’ll be responsible for clearing holes for the team’s running attack, protecting a new quarterback in this system and keeping the pace going offensively in general. Before, a shaky offensive line would get covered up by the genius of Brady. Now, every mistake will be exposed.

Fortunately, the Patriots carry one of the best offensive lines heading into the season. The group features Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. They have the ability to excel as pass and run-blockers and will be fundamental in the team’s success — health is the only concern.

The Patriots will likely have a run-heavy scheme that relies on great defense and clock management. This season will boil down to the trenches and Belichick is heading into the season with the right pieces in play.

Cornerbacks

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Similar to the offensive line, the Patriots will head into the 2020 season with arguably the best group of cornerbacks. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore, will head the group. Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Joejaun Williams will be his counterparts.

New England allowed the second-least passing yards last season (2,886) and recorded the most interceptions (25) — with 12 coming from cornerbacks. Gilmore was named a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro for the second consecutive season and he only allowed one touchdown on the year.

Jackson is entering his third season and is ascending as one of the league’s top cornerbacks, while Jones remains elite as a slot cover guy. The Patriots have one of the best cornerback crews in the NFL and it’ll allow for maximum flexibility for Belichick.

An early fantasy football outlook for Patriots RB Sony Michel

With the 2020 season approaching, we take a look at fantasy football expectations for Sony Michel.

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel is heading into an unprecedented situation with Tom Brady out of the picture.

The ground-and-pound running back is heading into his third NFL season and was used as the Patriots’ workhorse over the first two years. Michel’s most productive stint was during the 2018 playoffs — while slightly regressing in the 2019 season. He rushed for 912 yards and seven touchdowns last season with an average of 3.7 yards per carry.

Michel is missing a pass-catching dynamic in his game and it’s hurt his overall value as a fantasy football prospect. He’s handled 54 percent of the team’s carries in 29 games played, making him still a valuable back to add later in the draft. Brady’s absence will lead to a strong rushing attack and Michel will likely lead that category again.

The 2020 season will be a heavy load on Michel.

ADP on Fantasy Pros: #75
Where we think you should take him: ninth round
ESPN’s projected stats: 196 carries, 771 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns
Our projected stats: 260 carries, 912 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns

The backfield will feature Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris this year. As aforementioned, the Patriots will likely rely on their defense and a run-heavy gameplan to make life easier on second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham. In situations where Brady would’ve thrown the ball in the red zone, Michel will get more attempts to burst into the end zone.

It’s difficult to gauge Michel’s value, but he won’t be an RB1 because of his inability to make plays through the air. He can be used as an RB2 in a deeper league, but keeping him as a FLEX player to start is the safest decision. His production is unpredictable, but he has the capability to carry the ball more than 20 times a game and collect around 10 touchdowns on the season.

The Patriots drafted two tight ends and three interior offensive linemen to compete for roles on the team. They also signed fullback Danny Vitale — giving them a strong front to pound the rock. New England had little tight end presence last season and lost James Develin to a neck injury.

Though the Patriots’ running backs are always unpredictable, it’s very possible Michel puts up his best fantasy football year.

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