FOXBORO -- Sony Michel is about to be the guy.
James White is as dependable as dependable can be. And though he's willing to take on whatever role is asked, though he ran like a power back to win a Super Bowl two seasons ago, he's more receiver than runner.
Kenjon Barner has good quickness and return-game experience.
But Michel is the guy at running back for the Patriots at the moment. There really isn't anyone else on the Patriots roster to carry the load of between-the-tackles runs that Josh McDaniels will call moving forward.
Rex Burkhead landed on injured reserve after leaving Sunday's game with a neck injury. Jeremy Hill landed on injured reserve after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1. Now the bulk of the running-game work will in all likelihood fall to the rookie first-round pick.
Michel's veteran teammates have confidence that he'll be able to answer the bell. In the locker room, the Georgia product is stationed between a pair of captains: Matthew Slater and James White.
"Sony has been very impressive," Slater said. "I think his attitude, his buy-in, has been pretty unique for a first rounder. When you think first-rounder traditionally in the league, you know, those guys tend to think they got it going on.
"But he's carried himself with a lot of humility, come in here and worked his butt off. He's taken coaching. He's been a great teammate and that's all you can ask for from a younger player . . . We trust that he's gonna do his job. The rest of us need to do ours."
Michel finished Sunday's loss in Detroit with 50 yards on 14 carries (a 3.6 average per attempt) and he lost a yard on his only catch when he couldn't shake free from a defensive who outweighs him by about 60 pounds. He also saw consecutive attempts thrown his way fall incomplete. One glanced off his finger-tips on a pass that either caught him by surprise or was out of his reach or both. The next was dropped.
Still, the Patriots clearly like him. On 36 offensive snaps in two games, Michel has taken a handoff or been targeted in the passing game 29 times. Now they have only White (and potentially Barner) to help him shoulder the running back workload.
Reasons to be optimistic about Michel's night in Detroit? He gained 36 yards after contact, forced three missed tackles, and he's still likely getting his legs under him after missing most of camp and the entire preseason due to a knee injury.
"He didn't get to play during the preseason so there's a lot of stuff that he hasn't gotten to see," White said. "I try to help him as much as I can, whether that's watching film or answering questions from him. But he's been attacking each day and trying to get better. You can tell he just wants to improve."
The more reps Michel sees, the more he should look like the player who had 98 yards on 14 carries against Alabama in the national championship game in January. White suggested as much, emphasizing the fact that the time missed for Michel means a lot of catching up to do.
"I feel like I had my feet under me" early as a rookie, White said. "I was there the whole preseason so I got to take all those reps and whatnot. Sony didn't get that. He missed a lot of preseason. He's continued to learn. I'll do whatever I can to help him speed up that process."
White added: "He's a very mature guy. Reminds me of myself. Quiet guy. Stick to ourselves for the most part of the time. But he tries to learn, ask questions, get the extra reps, do whatever he can to help the team."
They're counting on him now.