New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick feels first-round pick N’Keal Harry is ready to play from a mental standpoint. It’s the physical aspect where Belichick and the Patriots will have to evaluate.
“We hope he’ll be ready to go,” said an optimistic yet non-committal Belichick in a conference call on Monday. “Mentally, he’s been able to keep up with everything. It’s just physically, he needs to be able to show he can go out there and participate competitively at the practice level that we’re at.
“Hopefully that’s where he’ll be, but we’ll make up our final evaluations before we put him out there.”
The wide receiver is able to return to practice this week after an ankle injury in the preseason opener landed him on injured reserve, and by league rule, forced him to wait six weeks until practicing. The earliest Harry can return is on Nov. 3 against the Baltimore Ravens, meaning he will likely not be activated to the 53-man roster until after Week Eight.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels echoed Belichick’s assessment in regards to the team needing to gauge Harry’s readiness based on how he performs on the practice field.
“I think the fairest thing to do for any young player, especially a guy who’s missed as much time as N’Keal (Harry) has, is we’ve got to get him back on the practice field,” McDaniels said. “We have to make smart decisions about when he’s ready to do what.”
McDaniels said it would be a difficult task to throw any player in and expect him to do everything perfectly off the bat. He noted the fact that these players will be under more pressure, with different defensive looks along with the task of going against NFL-caliber cornerbacks and safeties for the first time, and in Harry’s case, the first time of his career.
“I think the practice field and the results we get on the practice field will tell us when the right time is to use him in different roles,” McDaniels said of Harry. “It’s really no different for him now than it would be at the very beginning of the season. You get him in there, and he’s going to make some mistakes. He’s going to learn from them. Hopefully, he improves because of it. And I think we’re going to use our practice repetitions and the work that we put in on the practice field each week moving forward as the barometer to tell us when the right time is to do more or to maybe pull back and do less.
“The goal will be for him — the same as it is for each one of our other players: let’s try to put him in position to do something he does well on game day. And if we’re doing that, we’re being fair to the player and giving him an opportunity to go out there and play fast and be aggressive, which is the goal.”
Harry’s possible return off IR would likely help a receiving corps which has dealt with a plethora of injuries in recent weeks. Phillip Dorsett has not played in consecutive games, being inactive in Thursday night’s win over the New York Giants, while Josh Gordon did not play the entire second half due to a leg injury. The two injuries forced undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski to play nearly the entire second half, along with veteran Julian Edelman.
Patriots re-sign Ben Watson
Harry’s possible return Week Nine appears like it would not be the only pass-catching addition for the Patriots; the team is reportedly re-signing tight end Ben Watson, as reported by ESPN.
Belichick left the option open for Watson’s return last week. The Patriots released Watson last Monday after he served a four-game suspension from the league for performance-enhancing drugs. At the time, Belichick said Watson’s release was due to the Patriots being unable to find a roster spot for him. Now, with fullback Jakob Johnson being sent to injured reserve following Thursday’s game, in addition to the fact that tight end Matt LaCosse suffered a knee injury of his own Week Six, the Patriots had a roster spot open up. Watson will help fill that and join tight end Ryan Izzo.
The Patriots will next travel to the New York Jets for Monday Night Football.