FOXBORO -- Rhamondre Stevenson wasn't ready to play football when he first showed up to training camp as a rookie last year. At just over 230 pounds, he was placed on the non-football injury list and his start to summer work was delayed.
But it wasn't long before he was out at practice, and about halfway through the season his role within the Patriots offense grew exponentially as he established himself as one of the league's most efficient backs.
Now, as Stevenson starts his second camp, he reported at 225 pounds. But it's possible he'll end up adding more to his plate on the field.
Back in June, Stevenson said he was focused on his route running and "being a third-down back." With James White beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list, there's an opening for Stevenson to do more as a pass-catcher. It's only been two days of work, but in that time he's caught all four passes sent his way in competitive practice periods.
"I feel a lot more confident and comfortable running routes," Stevenson said Thursday. "Understanding the third-down concepts, blitz-pickup, I would say. Just the overall thing (feels better). Running routes, catching the ball, pass-protection, just learning the overall third-down system."
Stevenson caught 14 passes for 123 yards last year, and according to Pro Football Focus he averaged 1.54 yards per route run. That efficiency figure ranked eighth among backs last season and placed him just behind some of the best pass-catching backs in football like Austin Ekeler (1.55) and Alvin Kamara (1.62).
Stevenson would be one of the biggest third-down backs the Patriots have deployed under Bill Belichick. That role is usually reserved for the diminutive types like White, Shane Vereen and Kevin Faulk. But Stevenson has soft hands and the quickness to threaten with well-run routes. He also has the open-field running ability to be a menace after the catch.
It remains to be seen which back will be the top option in that role. Ty Montgomery has seen snaps alongside Mac Jones through the first two days of camp. Same goes for J.J. Taylor. Fourth-round draft pick Pierre Strong, who projects as a receiving back, has been limited through two days.
If Belichick feels his team is at its best with Harris and Stevenson sharing the early-down workload with the better pass-catcher of the two getting the looks on third downs, it certainly seems within the realm of possibility that Stevenson finds himself in the third-down back role if White can't fill it.
"I'm just gonna get ready for whatever I need to do," Stevenson said when asked if he wanted those third-down reps. "It's Coach [Belichick]'s decision, really."