Damien Harris didn't see much action over the course of his rookie season, which essentially could have been called a red-shirt campaign for the 2019 third-round pick out of Alabama. In all, the 23-year-old suited up for just two contests last season and carried the ball four times for 12 yards. 2020, however, has the potential for Harris to not only see more playing time but possibly find his way into the starting lineup.
Through two full-padded practices in training camp, Harris has seen a solid workload, splitting time with veteran Rex Burkhead, according to reporters on the scene in Foxborough. Harris seems to be making the most of that opportunity as Mike Reiss of ESPN notes the back made a strong one-handed catch delivered by Cam Newton on Tuesday.
"It's been good," Harris said of his increased workload to start camp, via WEEI.com. "It's given me an opportunity to improve. That's what I think is most important – coming in and showing that I can be dependable, I can be competitive, I can play the game at a high level. So, I just want to come in here and improve every single day no matter what is asked of me, whatever coaches need me to do I'm going to go out there and try to do it to the best of my ability."
Harris is seeing this workload jump due to starting running back Sony Michel -- and recently signed veteran Lamar Miller -- still residing on the PUP list due to respective offseason surgeries. Even if he was on the field, however, Harris likely would have still been given a shot to see an increased number of snaps as Michel has yet to truly breakout since being drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Georgia. Last year, Michel notched just 3.7 yards per carry.
Harris has been complemented by running backs coach Ivan Fears on a number of occasions over the course of his brief Patriots tenure and 2020 could be the season where that potential has an opportunity to flash. One thing that will create more opportunities for him to see the field is his catching ability and work in pass protection, which Harris noted he feels comfortable in, but "there's still room for improvement."
"I'm not here to self-assess, I'm just here to improve and to continually get better," he said. "So that the coaches will think those kind of things and they can evaluate that. My job is not to evaluate myself or anybody else on the team. My job is to go out there and work as hard as I can to become a better football player."
At Alabama, Harris logged back-to-back campaigns of over a thousand yards rushing during his sophomore and junior year. In his final collegiate season under Nick Saban, Harris rushed for 876 yards and nine touchdowns, while catching a career-high 22 passes for 204 yards. If he's able to bring that type of versatility into New England's backfield, he should be considered a sleeper candidate to start the 2020 season at running back.