FOXBORO — Members of the media have heard very little from N'Keal Harry since he was placed on injured reserve at the start of the season. He expressed hope that he'd be able to play prior to his team's Week 9 game in Baltimore two weeks ago. Other than that ... silence.
From his teammates, though, we've been provided a little more detail as to how things are going with the first-round rookie from Arizona State.
“I think he continues to get better," Devin McCourty told WEEI's Dale & Keefe program last week. "One of the things he does a really good job of is playing hard in practice. He at times, he pisses off the DBs because he works his butt off — out there blocking, out there getting open. I think that is the good thing about seeing him out there running around.
"It’s hard. When you’re a young guy and you’re a rookie and you miss that much time, you come out there and it’s everything in your game you have to work on. I think as an older guy, that has been exciting to see him there every day after practice just getting work in. He’s doing his best to try and get back out there.”
To hear that Harry is pissing off others on the practice field isn't all that surprising. He's an emotional practice player. That's something we saw all the way back in June. It's something his college coaches appreciated about him when he was with the Sun Devils.
"N'Keal's very competitive," Arizona State receivers coach Charlie Fisher told The Next Pats Podcast earlier this offseason. "He looks to do good. He gets pissed if he doesn't do it good in practice. Like all great players, he wants to do it good. He takes great pride in trying to do whatever it is your trying to teach him, and he tries to do a good job with it."
On Wednesday — joining WEEI's Christian Fauria during Fauria's 25 consecutive hours on air to raise money and awareness for the American Diabetes Foundation — Tom Brady spoke to Harry's effort on the practice field. While Brady was reluctant to sing Harry's praises ahead of the Ravens game, which he explained, he was willing to laud Harry's "edge" on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
“I think with our team, what I think we’ve done over the years is we’ve not projected expectations for people that put them in an unfair position that people are expecting things that, you know, are not in my control,” Brady said. “If you want to ask someone like N’Keal how he feels he’s doing, you should ask him. To ask me, and then put unfair expectations on a younger player, I don’t think that is helpful at all. It is really up to each individual player.
"It's not just N’Keal because I like N’Keal a lot. Everybody’s role is earned and I think that's the mark of the Patriots and that's part of the culture — you have to come out here and you have to earn a spot and earn a role. You do that through practice, earning the trust of your teammates and your coaches that you can be talented when the moments are their biggest."
Brady added: "Unfortunately for N’Keal, he got hurt early in training camp. He didn’t have the development when other guys were practicing for over two months. He’s working hard. He’s extremely hard-working. He wants to do it. He’s got a great edge about him. I really love that. I really love his tenacity and he’s learning every day, and he’s working hard to get better. I think that is all you can ask of a younger player.”
The Patriots could ask for more from Harry on Sunday, when he'll have an opportunity to be in uniform for his first game as a pro. Will the Patriots activate him, though?
If part of the reason Harry was inactive in Baltimore was because of the game plan — Josh McDaniels wanted to use the hurry-up, which experienced players might have an easier time executing — then perhaps he'll have a reduced (or non-existent) role in Philadelphia if that's the plan once again. The Patriots were relatively effective with their fast-paced offense that day despite falling short on the scoreboard.
But activating Harry would give the Patriots a big-bodied red-zone target — something they could use as they're throwing in the red zone more often lately yet still only succeeding on half of their red zone attempts for the year. Harry might also help the team's No. 27 ranking when it comes to success rate on goal-to-go passing scenarios.
The Eagles secondary is also generally a juicy matchup for opposing receivers. Their corner group has struggled at different points this season and they're 25th in the NFL in yards allowed per attempt to receivers (8.9).
Seems like it could be a good time to allow Harry to take that practice demeanor his teammates have noticed out to the game field.
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