N'Keal Harry has had to wait... and wait... and wait to make his NFL debut, but he's getting closer to getting on the field.
The Patriots first-round pick out of Arizona State suffered an injury in their preseason opener back in August that eventually landed him on injured reserve. By NFL rule, Harry had to wait at least six weeks before practicing and at least eight weeks before playing in a game.
That six-week wait is now up, and he's eligible to practice, though the Patriots can wait to get him back on the practice field at any time.
Bill Belichick said in a conference call on Monday that Harry -- who has been in the facility, in meetings, and taking reps with fellow rookie wideouts in the team's "virtual room" -- is mentally ready to go. The question is whether he's physically ready.
If he is, Belichick said he'll practice.
"We hope," Belichick said, "he'll be ready to go . . . Physically he needs to be able to show he can go out there and participate competitively at the practice level that we're at. Hopefully that's where he'll be, but we'll make our final evaluations on that before we put him out there."
Before Harry actually practices, the team will have to inform the NFL that he has been "designated to return." That would designate him as one of two players that the Patriots are allowed to bring back off of IR (or the non-football injury list).
Once Harry gets on the practice field, the Patriots will have 21 days to activate him to the active roster or shut him down for the season. The first game he'll be eligible to play will be a Week 9 matchup with the Ravens.
Harry impressed at times in training camp, flashing an ability to make acrobatic contested catches. But after he was injured in Detroit, he missed valuable on-the-field time that inevitably stunted his development to a certain extent.
"I think the fairest thing to do for any young player . . . is we have to get him back on the practice field," Josh McDaniels said. "We have to make smart decisions about when he's ready to do what."
McDaniels explained that it wouldn't be wise to say to Harry, "Do everything. Do it all well. Do it all well under pressure."
Instead, they'll look at his practice reps and figure out what he can handle and what he can't for the time being.
"There's things that hopefully we can build into and do quicker than others," McDaniels said. "I think the practice field and the results we get on the practice field will tell us what the right time is to use him in different roles."
If Harry is out at practice this week, as the Patriots hope, his performance on the fields behind Gillette Stadium should quickly provide the team with answers on his readiness.
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