Patriots

Belichick has high praise for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson

Patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson has come a long way since his NFL debut.

After an encouraging preseason, the New England Patriots' rookie running back dropped the ball in the team's Week 1 loss to the Miami Dolphins -- literally. Stevenson had two touches and fumbled one of them. That performance landed him on the inactive list for the next three weeks.

Cassel: Who is a better matchup for the Patriots come playoff time?

Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears warned during training camp that Stevenson had a lot to work on.

“What do I like about him? He’s here. I like that he’s here,” Fears told reporters on Aug. 4. “Other than that, everything’s got to improve. That’s what we have to get done. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s talented, we’ll see what he can do in the games, but right now, he’s got a lot to learn. A lot to learn.”

Since then, Stevenson has formed a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield with Damien Harris and developed into one of New England's key offensive contributors. The 23-year-old has tallied 572 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season, two of those TDs coming in last week's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Pats head coach Bill Belichick has loved what he's seen from the fourth-round draft pick. He was asked Wednesday to share his thoughts on Stevenson's progress.

“ 'Mondre has improved a lot,” Belichick said. “Only had one year at Oklahoma. I think he picked up a lot there but he’s just continued to develop in all areas: Running, pass protection, blitz pickup, just overall patience in the running game and decision making, ball security.

“He’s worked really hard. Give the kid a lot of credit. He’s been asked to do a lot of things and he’s put in the extra time and really embraced the coaching and the detail that he’s gotten and tried to execute it — and has. He’s improved tremendously. I think he’s earned everybody’s respect for his work ethic and his willingness to help the team in any way he can.”

Stevenson figures to be a big part of the Patriots' game plan again in Sunday's regular-season finale vs. the Miami Dolphins. Kickoff for the Week 18 matchup is set for 4:25 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium.