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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