Sony Michel

Patriots running back Sony Michel addresses the media at a news conference before the Super Bowl in February.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There was a sense that you knew what was coming every time Sony Michel stepped on the field last season.

The truth is the opposing defense probably had a good idea as well. When the rookie running back was on the field in 2018, the Patriots ran the ball 75.9% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. In the playoffs, that number rose to 83.8%.

Being predictable is never ideal in the NFL, but it’s not as if it really mattered. A defense might’ve known what was coming, but they still couldn’t stop this running back from Georgia. Michel ran for 931 yards and scored six touchdowns in 13 regular season games. In the playoffs, the rookie was even better, rushing for 336 yards and scoring six rushing touchdowns in three contests, including the only touchdown in Super Bowl LIII.

The production was there, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that Michel entered this offseason hoping to improve his pass-catching ability. Last year, he caught seven passes in the regular season and just one pass in the playoffs.

It would certainly be problematic for the NFL if Michel turned into a more versatile weapon, which is how he’s starting to look in training camp.

“That’s part of my game that I have to work on,” Michel said. “You can’t really take any part of your game for granted. You want to work. You want to be good in all areas. I think just being a football player, it’s about just trying to get better.”

Last season, Michel fell behind in the passing aspect of the game in part because of his health. The then-rookie missed all of minicamp and most of training camp due to an issue with his knee. On top of that, Michel didn’t appear in a single preseason game and missed the Patriots opener against the Houston Texans.

With Tom Brady skipping OTAs, combined with the knee injury, Michel didn’t have many reps with the quarterback in his first NFL offseason. That was evident throughout the season as the Patriots barely ran designed pass play for Michel, who had fewer targets (11) than fullback James Develin (17).

This offseason, Michel missed minicamp due to a knee scope procedure. He started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but only missed the first two days of camp. It’s been a slow build for Michel, but Friday was his most impressive day in the receiving game.

Michel caught a camp-high five passes on the day. In fact, the first pass Brady threw in 7-on-7s went to the second-year running back. Overall, Michel had three catches from Brady (two in 7-on-7s and one in full-team drills) and one reception from Jarrett Stidham in full-team drills and another from Brian Hoyer in 7-on-7s.

“You know, it being my rookie year I probably felt behind the 8-ball in just football in general,” Michel said. “You have to be in a groove of playing football and camp definitely helped this year that I can be a part and kind of get in a rhythm.”

Friday marked Day 8 of training camp and it was by far, Michel’s most productive days as a pass catcher. Prior to this day, he had one catch in full-team drills, on Thursday. On Day 4 of camp, he had three receptions in 7-on-7s.

As Michel has slowly increased his workload in practice, you could also tell that Brady was taking more time to work with the running back. There have been multiple instances over the past six practices of Michel being involved in a side session with Brady and James White.

“I’d say any session I have in this practice is important,” Michel said when asked about the extra work. “Getting a chance to work with whether it’s Tom or the coaches, getting to learn from those guys. Trying to take that and bring it to the field.”

Michel was able to do that on Friday. If he keeps it up, the Patriots are going to be even more unpredictable than they were last year. That could be a problem for the rest of the league.

“It’s all about seeing what can I improve on this year,” Michel said. “You want to be better because you never really stay the same. You’re either getting worse or getting better.”