Michel, 24, tore his ACL in high school and battled knee injuries throughout his college career at the University of Georgia, and those difficulties have persisted in the NFL. Speculation was that the Patriots were keeping Michel out of minicamp drills and practices to reduce the workload on his problematic knee, and that’s now been confirmed by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe.
As Howe mentioned, Michel having arthroscopic surgery on his knee shouldn’t prevent him from participating in training camp (expected to begin July 24). But the Patriots’ 2018 first-round draft pick also had his knee drained last August and that procedure contributed to a missed preseason, an inactive Week 1 and a slow start to last season.
Overall, Michel missed three games of his rookie campaign, sitting out Weeks 1, 8 and 9. Yet those knee troubles weren’t an issue through the end of the year, as Michel appeared in each of the Patriots’ final seven regular season games and all three playoff games. During that span, he rushed for 94 or more yards five times and logged 18 or more carries six times.
Michel logged 209 carries for 931 yards and six touchdowns for the season, providing the kind of running threat that had been missing from the Patriots’ offense in previous years. He was expected to build on that success in 2019, but continued knee issues have to raise some concerns among coaches and executives.
The Patriots drafted Damien Harris out of Alabama in the third round of this year’s draft. Harris was extremely productive during his four years in Tuscaloosa, twice rushing for over 1,000 yards and compiling more than 800 yards in his senior season. Additionally, Harris is viewed as a better pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield, skills that could give him an edge in competition with Michel.
However, it seems likely that the Patriots will divide the workload between Michel and Harris to reduce wearing each running back down and the possibility of injury. Michel missed opportunities to get repetitions with quarterback Tom Brady in the passing offense and become more comfortable running routes. He only caught seven passes for 50 yards last season.
During a guest analyst stint at ESPN last week, former Pats running back Shane Vereen explained the importance of finding weaknesses against a zone defense. Getting to the right spot is how backs like Vereen and James White have succeeded in the New England system. As talented a runner as Michel is, he’ll be limited in how much help he can provide the offense if he’s going to the sidelines on passing downs.
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