Former Patriots RB thinks Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best in NFL

This Ezekiel Elliott assessment might surprise you.

Former New England Patriots running back Sony Michel shared his thoughts on Ezekiel Elliott, who recently signed with the Patriots on a one-year deal.

Michel knows a thing or two about adding value in the running game. He was the Patriots’ first-round draft pick in 2018 and ended up being a key contributor in New England’s Super Bowl LIII win that season. Now, the organization is looking to get back to the playoffs, and adding Elliott will at least give them the running back depth needed to attempt to do so.

Michel believes that Elliott still has quite a bit left in the tank, despite being supplanted by teammate Tony Pollard in the Dallas Cowboys running back room last year.

“Zeke, he’s one of the top backs in the league right now—still, to this day. I have this argument all the time,” Michel said, when appearing on the “Up & Adams” show. “He’s still probably top-seven running back. You know, a lot of people give him a lot of flak for what happened the past couple years, ‘Oh, he’s not the same Zeke.’ This dude’s going still for a 1,000 yards, and he’s still not the same? He probably dropped off 200 yards and people were saying he fell off or he’s not the same. He’s the same Zeke. Now, he’s probably hungrier than ever on a different team, fresh start.”

To say that Michel’s take is generous would be accurate.

Elliott is not the same producer that he was at his peak. Nevertheless, having Rhamondre Stevenson in the backfield means that Elliott will not have to be the top running back he was during his early years in Dallas.

Instead, he should be able to complement Stevenson and form one of the best running back duos in the NFL. New England will need to keep pace with the rest of the teams in the AFC East, and having a strong running game will help them do that.

Elliott is the sort of low-risk, high-reward signing that typically pays off for the Patriots.

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PFF ranks Bill O’Brien among NFL’s best offensive coordinators

Bill O’Brien landed high in Pro Football Focus’ NFL offensive coordinator rankings

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New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien may have been one of the most important moves of the 2023 offseason. Pro Football Focus has him ranked at No. 3 on their list of top-10 offensive coordinators.

O’Brien rejoins New England after last coaching with the Alabama Crimson Tide. He has an opportunity to right the offensive ship, led by quarterback Mac Jones. He also has the luxury of running an offense with two capable tight ends in Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.

The pieces are there for both O’Brien and the New England offense to succeed in 2023. The two tight ends could play a huge role in everything. Gesicki has a chance to carve out a key receiving role in the offense, while Henry continues to serve as a security blanket for Jones. Meanwhile, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster could provide a spark for the team as well.

All in all, O’Brien’s experience in addition to New England’s new weapons could be a recipe for success.

PFF’s Sam Monson wrote:

Bill O’Brien the coach is excellent. He was undone somewhat by Bill O’Brien the personnel man, and so his tenure in Houston is, perhaps, unfairly remembered, but the Patriots secured a major upgrade at offensive coordinator this offseason. O’Brien has had success in the NFL in multiple stops, including New England, and was coaching an outstanding Alabama offense in college before his return to the professional ranks.

While the perception about O’Brien right now may be unfairly tainted by his stint as a head coach, it’s possible that it gets overly inflated this season by virtue of how good he might look in comparison to the disastrous plan that went before him. Either way, in a league low on proven commodities, O’Brien deserves a high ranking.

O’Brien’s past success with New England as well as his time with Alabama should help him run a modern, revitalized offense. The unit will certainly be put to the test with a difficult regular season schedule ahead, along with a third-year quarterback that still needs to prove himself.

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Josh McDaniels is done with ‘The Patriot Way’

Josh McDaniels is looking to establish his own identity as head coach.

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Josh McDaniels is not trying to emulate Bill Belichick as he enters his new head coaching gig with the Las Vegas Raiders.

McDaniels took the job on January 30 to begin his second head coaching stint of his career. His first opportunity came with the Denver Broncos in 2009, and he finished his time in Denver in 2010.

With a refreshed approach to coaching under his belt, McDaniels admitted to reporters on Thursday that he tried to emulate the “Patriot Way” during his stint with the Broncos. Now, he realizes that it is difficult to replicate, and he will focus more on establishing his own identity as a coach, as noted in a report from the team’s official website.

“I’m not Bill [Belichick], and I can’t be,” McDaniels said. “I’m just going to try to be myself and hopefully I can be a good leader for our team.”

McDaniels and the Raiders have pieces in place to win in a tight AFC West division. Davante Adams was the big get of the offseason for Las Vegas. The Raiders also picked up some players familiar with McDaniels’ style. Running back Brandon Bolden should allow McDaniels to have familiarity as he looks to establish the offense.

“I think we have a good thing going in terms of the direction that we’ve started things in,” McDaniels said. “The football part of it and the belief in how to win and some of the strategy and those kind of things, very much what I know. But the interpersonal interactions each day, the flow of the day, some of those other things that you could choose to copy if you wanted to – we have a lot of great people, like I said, and so being able to give them their responsibilities, they know what their roles are and let them go do their jobs is really important for me.

“It’s really important for them to know that I support them and I’m just here to be a resource and try to help them if I can. If I can’t, then I’m going to learn from them. It’s been great in terms of just trying to put that into motion here. I think the players and coaches know it’s not going to be that way.”

As he looks to make his mark as a head coach, McDaniels aims to create his own path.

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Sony Michel viewed Patriots RBs coach Ivan Fears as a father figure

Sony Michel had high praise for Ivan Fears earlier this week.

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Los Angeles Rams running backs Sony Michel is very appreciative of his time in New England.

Earlier this week, he talked about his experience with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In addition to those two, he has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Ivan Fears — New England’s running backs coach who is reportedly set to retire in the 2022 calendar year.

Michel spent his first three seasons with the Patriots before he was traded at the start of the 2021 season. Fears was there for him every step of the way during his time in New England and Michel thought of him like a father figure.

The former Georgia star ended up rushing for 2,292 yards during his time in New England. In the process, Fears was a big part of his development.

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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

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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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