Rookie: Belichick praises his running back’s maturity.
Success didn’t come right away for New England Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel.
After missing most of the preseason with a knee injury, the first-round pick posted a pair of mediocre performances that coincided with back-to-back losses. With the running game stagnated, Michel took a good deal of heat from the Boston sports media sphere.
But even with the criticism, a second knee injury and a tweaked back last week against the New York Jets, Michel has continued to put together a solid rookie campaign.
In eight games, Michel leads the team with 586 rushing yards. He’s done it while averaging 4.6 yards per carry, tying him for the 19th best mark in the NFL — 0.1 yards shy of Alvin Kamara and 0.2 shy of Saquon Barkley. After Week 12, Pro Football Focus ranked Michel as the NFL’s No. 18-graded running back.
But more than anything, Michel has received praise from across the Patriots locker room for his maturity and work ethic.
On Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Michel’s maturity as one of his greatest strengths, allowing to overcome the early stumbles of an NFL rookie to find success. In particular, Belichick praised the way that Michel has corrected mistakes with urgency, all with an even keel that allows him to step back and execute the next play.
“He does a real good job of all that, has since he’s been here, coming in as a first-round pick with the expectations and so forth,” Belichick said. “He’s really handled all of that well and has really focused on being a good teammate, doing a good job with what he has to do. He’s been great for us.”
Michel’s success with the Patriots involves more than simply running the ball. In order to share a backfield with Tom Brady, a running back in New England also needs to catch the ball, pass block and read defenses to the point where they’re actually blocking the right guy.
As Belichick noted Tuesday, NFL defenses show a much greater variety of defensive looks than college teams do, making it hard for young players to determine what’s coming.
Michel hasn’t been perfect since entering the Patriots’ lineup. However, Belichick did note that on the occasion that Michel does make a mistake that needs to be corrected, it rarely happens twice.
“There’s really a lot to learn, but he’s done a good job of it,” Belichick said. “He’s got a long way to go but he gets it quickly and processes it and understands it. Again, yeah, usually the next time he does it he’s on it.”
The Patriots got some extra help at the running back position this week when the team activated Rex Burkhead from injured reserve. The veteran will provide depth as a runner between the tackles as well as a third-down back.
The ability to play in multiple phases of the game is definitely something Belichick values.
“He’s a versatile player that can be involved in all three — actually, all four downs — with a high level of execution in the running game, the passing game and the kicking game,” Belichick said. “We’ll take as many of those guys as we can get.”