Being fast is a terrific asset to have but for rookie RB Pierre Strong Jr., being able to do everything in the New England Patriots’ backfield will ultimately decide how much he plays in 2022.
As it currently stands, heading into training camp, the Patriots already take with them a pretty crowded backfield. However, it’s also a group that certainly has some big question marks.
Starter Damien Harris is in a contract year and will likely again handle the lion’s share of the carries this season. Rhamondre Stevenson will also be a big part of things, with the only question being how much of the snaps he splits with Harris as he potentially gets set to take over that role if Harris moves on after this year.
From there, things start to get a little murky.
The team brought back James White, who still reportedly has yet to be medically cleared coming back from his devastating hip injury in 2021, with J.J. Taylor and Strong Jr. likely potential candidates to also try and fill that role.
Taylor had a rough go of things last season, with his inability to pick up the blitz ultimately seeming to be his Achilles heel. Fans likely remember one play from last season where he missed a block and rookie QB Mac Jones was completely leveled, which then saw Brandon Bolden step into the role for the remainder of the year.
Bolden has since moved on to Las Vegas and the team will likely need someone else to fill in. But who that might be is currently a bit of a question mark.
Strong Jr. appears to be a possibility, with the speedy former Jackrabbit as someone who seems to be a solid candidate. Everyone is aware that he was one of the fastest backs at the combine and his playmaking ability once he gets into the second level is definitely one of the things that stands out on film.
However, in that role, keeping Jones upright is obviously a priority. Despite Taylor’s upside running the football, Bill Belichick looks at the entire body of work and it wasn’t enough to get him back into the line-up after he fell out of favor. Guys need to focus on everything they’re asked to do because not being good enough at everything can be game-changing.
That’s going to be an area to keep an eye on. Whoever is elevated into that role, especially if White isn’t ready, will again see the team weigh the risk/reward factor and they’re not afraid to go with a lesser talented player. We saw that last season when they went with Bolden, who while not the most explosive player, did everything else well enough to stay there all the way until the end of the year.
The Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian caught up with Strong’s former position coach, Andre Crenshaw, who did say that pass-protecting was something Strong Jr. focused on in college.
“I know people say he needs to work on that, but I thought he made an extremely huge jump in pass protection from previous years, to now his senior year,” said Crenshaw. “He knew it was important for teams to see him pass-protect and put great things on film.
“If you look at film from his senior year, there were times he was putting his face on people, and he’s pass protecting his butt off because he knows the value of it.”
It’s going to be important, and he only needs to look at Taylor’s situation to realize that it could be the difference between him capturing a big role in his rookie year, or being just an observer in 2022.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of the above appeared in this morning’s news/notes column.)
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Offseason
Tags: Damien Harris J.J. Taylor James White Mac Jones New England Patriots Pierre Strong Jr. Rhamondre Stevenson