Here's how Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry remains engaged despite limited playing time

Here's how Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry remains engaged despite limited playing time

FOXBORO, Mass. -- New England Patriots rookie wide receiver N'Keal Harry left the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions with an injury and hasn't played since, so he's been forced to find other ways to stay engaged and learn.

“He’s been doing everything we’ve asked him to in the classroom and progressing every day," Patriots wide receivers coach Joe Judge said Monday at Gillette Stadium. "He can only improve on what he can work on. Right now, as far as my exposure with him, he’s coming to work every day with a clear head. He’s very motivated, and he’s staying very engaged mentally with everything we’re doing.”

NBC Sports Boston's Patriots insider Phil Perry observed Harry was moving gingerly during the portion of Monday's practice available to the media. Not being able to take full reps, whether they come in a game or practice, is far from an ideal situation for a rookie trying to get command of a complex offense.

“That’s just the nature of it. And that’s for everyone — rookies, veterans, doesn’t really matter. You miss out this time of the season, it’s tough," Judge said. "There’s a natural setback, but you’ve to mentally fight to stay engaged. You’ve got to get the mental reps, as we say. And physically, when you get back, you have to push as hard as you can to catch up.”

Judge does like how focused Harry is in meetings, specifically with the questions he's asking.

“I just think it’s little things day-to-day," Judge said. "Sitting in the meeting room, the little insightful questions he’s asking, ‘Why did someone make an adjustment here?’ Could he do the same thing within his role? He’s kind of trying to look deeply into the details and that’s been a positive. There’s still a lot of big picture things all of these rookies have to capture in terms of the overall offense. But really, the difference in the young guys and older guys is the details, and that’s what he’s trying to get caught up on right now.”

It's unknown if Harry will play Thursday when the Patriots host the New York Giants in their preseason finale. Harry could use the reps, but it would behoove the team not to throw him into a game setting if he's not fully ready from a physical standpoint. 

The Patriots spent a first-round pick -- the only one Bill Belichick has ever used one on a wide receiver in New England -- in the 2019 NFL Draft to bring Harry into the fold, so clearly they admire the skills he can bring to the offense. Earlier in the offseason, it looked like Harry could be a key player in the passing attack right from the start of the regular season.  But his inability to stay healthy and get preseason reps, combined with veteran wideouts Josh Gordon (suspension), Julian Edelman (injury) and Demaryius Thomas (injury) all recently returning to practice, could result in Harry receiving a little more time to work back to 100 percent. These veterans coming back lessens the need for Harry to be ready to go Week 1.

It's definitely a situation worth monitoring, though. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could have one of the most talented offenses of his 20-year career if Harry and the rest of the wide receiver group is able to stay healthy and contribute.

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Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

Revisiting the 'enlightening' lesson Kobe Bryant taught Bill Belichick, Patriots

In a statement Tuesday, Bill Belichick said he had "never witnessed a group as captivated" as the New England Patriots when Kobe Bryant spoke to the team in May 2018.

Belichick wasn't just paying lip service.

On Tuesday, NFL Films resurfaced a clip from HBO's "The Art of Coaching" documentary about Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban in which both coaching legends reflected on their interactions with Bryant.

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These comments came in March 2019, more than 10 months before Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Here's what Belichick had to say at the time about Bryant's message to the Patriots:

Another thing he said to us, which was an awesome message, was, "When I was 25 (years old), I could go out and score 30 (points). When I was 35, 38, I could score 30, but it wasn't the same way. I had to learn how to play without the ball. I had to learn how to play in less space. I had to learn how to use picks differently. I couldn't just drive to the basket like I could in my younger days. I could still score, but I had to change my game."

That was so enlightening for all our players that heard that. Because you're sitting there looking at his career and then we're all thinking about ours. It's changed for me just like it's changed for the players.

Belichick is a student of football. He has won six Super Bowl titles over 20 years in New England by constantly adapting, changing his approach as a head coach and general manager to stay ahead of the game's shifting trends.

Belichick clearly saw the same trait in Bryant, who averaged 22.3 points per game at age 36 (after tearing his Achilles tendon) by altering his style of play after hours of study and practice. The 42-year-old Tom Brady obviously took Bryant's message to heart, as well.

Bryant is gone much too soon at age 41, but the impact he had on players and coaches of all sports will live on.

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

How Jimmy Garoppolo won his 49ers teammates over soon after Patriots trade: 'It was sick'

MIAMI -- George Kittle was dressed as a pirate. It was the day before Halloween of his rookie season. He was going to celebrate the holiday as any 24-year-old would. Then, as any 24-year-old would, he peeked down at his phone to check on a notification.

Jimmy Garoppolo had been traded by the Patriots to Kittle's 49ers. He had a new quarterback.

"I said, 'Wow, that's really interesting.' It was cool," Kittle remembered. "Jimmy G. Two Super Bowls. Hell of a leader. It's fun to have someone like that."

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Kittle and other Niners this week remembered the deal that sent Garoppolo to San Francisco and in the process changed the course of the franchise. They couldn't have known exactly what they had then. Garoppolo had only two NFL starts to his name. But now, sitting in front of microphones in Miami in the days leading up to Super Bowl LIV, they couldn't believe their good fortune that Garoppolo landed in their laps. 

The hints that they had something in Garoppolo came early. 

"Honestly, it sounds cliche but it's real, it was at the first practice," said fullback Kyle Juszczyk. "He ran the scout team the first day. And that first period he absolutely diced our defense. You could see it in his footwork, his mechanics, the confidence that he emitted. You could see that this guy was the real deal."

For Kittle, the sign came loud and clear that his offense had a new leader. It came before Garoppolo even made his first throw from under center. 

"It was funny, his first play under center, he has a really good cadence," Kittle said, referring to the quarterback's calls at the line of scrimmage. "He has a good voice for it. Right after he said, 'Hut! Hut! Hike!' for the first time, everyone was like, 'Whoa! Nice!' It was sick."  

"Very authoritative," offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Garoppolo's line-of-scrimmage vocals. The 13-year veteran smiled and added, "He's commanding. Lets you know he's there."

It came together quickly for Garoppolo in his second professional stop. He started five games after being traded, winning all five, and completing 67.4 percent of his passes at a clip of 8.8 yards per attempt. 

He tore his ACL after three games the following season, but rediscovered his 2017 form this season. The Niners went 13-3 with Garoppolo taking the snaps. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws (fourth in the NFL), threw 27 touchdown passes (sixth), and put up an 8.4 yards per attempt figure (third). 

"I didn't really know much, actually," Staley said of Garoppolo's days in New England. "I remember the one game he had in Arizona where he started and did really, really well. But didn't know much. Didn't have much of a reaction [to the trade] either way. Knew everyone was really high on him. 

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"Then he came in here and he really blew me away. In the huddle. All the little nuances of being a quarterback. The command that he had. His quick release. You could definitely tell that he was trained in that Patriots system as far as getting rid of the ball fast, which is awesome for an offensive lineman. He's continued to grow and develop since he's been here. It's been awesome to see him get to this point."

The Niners are back in the Super Bowl after a 4-12 record last season. Back in the Super Bowl with a chance to win one for the first time since January 1995. And thanks in part to Tom Brady continuing to play at an MVP level the season Garoppolo was dealt, thanks to the Patriots holding onto Garoppolo until midseason that year, all it cost the Niners to change everything was a second-round pick.

"I think," Juszczyk said, "we got him for a bargain."