Patriots

Patriots

If you ask Rischad Whitfield, an ankle injury wasn't the only thing that slowed N'Keal Harry down last season.

Whitfield, a personal trainer who brands himself as "The Footwork King," has been working with Harry this offseason to improve the New England Patriots wide receiver's footwork.

Specifically, Whitfield is trying to get Harry to play lighter and faster -- and get the 22-year-old out of improper foot mechanics that have slowed him down.

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"N'Keal told me, he goes, 'All my life, I've been told to stay low, stay low, stay low.' But the lower you get, the heavier you get," Whitfield told NFL Media's Mike Giardi in a recent interview.

"That's a science. Anybody can do a squat right now with no barbell on their back, have a little squat and then jump. The lower they get, the heavier they get. They can't move. I'm breaking him out of that mold."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Harry used that low, wide base to overpower defensive backs at Arizona State. But Whitfield, who has worked with Odell Beckham Jr., Mecole Hardman and Deebo Samuel among other talented wide receivers, believes that approach won't work against the NFL's bigger, stronger cornerbacks, which is why he's trying to make Harry more nimble.

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"He gets really wide, so I'm keeping him working with his base narrow and a little bit higher, just like a boxer," Whitfield said.

"This is the prime example I give him: You can't box with no footwork. You got to bob and weave and move out of the way. They're nimble. They're light. I got to get him to that, because he'll get wide. He'll stomp. He'll move his feet, but it's so heavy that it's not going anywhere. He's not moving the defensive back vertical."

That's not an encouraging assessment of Harry, the Patriots' first wide receiver taken in the first round since Terry Glenn in 1996. But it may explain why Harry created an average of just 2.2 yards of separation on his routes in 2019, which according to Next Gen Stats was the lowest on the team.

The good news is that Harry has multiple coaches working with him on his footwork -- he's also training with ex-Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen's brother, Justin Allen -- and if that hard work pays off, he could be a prominent weapon for second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.