New England Patriots running back Damien Harris catches the ball during practice Thursday in Foxborough, Mass. Steven Senne/Associated Press

Damien Harris had a breakout season in 2020, busting out of his role as a backup to become the main guy in the Patriots’ backfield and the team’s leading rusher.

Talking after Thursday’s practice, Harris repeated – with Belichick-ian frequency – that his goal is to improve and to get better every day.

“If that’s not your goal, then you’re gonna get passed by,” he said.

But heading into 2021, the focus on improving comes with the goal of working with an “unbelievable” group of players at the running back position that also includes Sony Michel, James White, J.J. Taylor and Brandon Bolden.

“That room is unbelievable,” Harris said. “The camaraderie, the brotherhood, I can’t even put into words how great it is playing alongside those guys. Every single day we come out here and we support each other. We push each other. We compete. We do everything we can to make each other better.”

Competition will be high out of the backfield this season for the Patriots. Harris emerged as the go-to every-down back by the end of 2020. However, the team also has a fully healthy Michel ready to go, with hopes that he’ll return to the promising form he showcased as a rookie.

There’s also White, who comes back after a stint as a free agent to be the top third-down back. Bolden opted out of the 2020 season and is working his way back into the offense as a reliable piece and special teamer. Then there’s Taylor, the undersized back who showed flashes of promise after making the team last season as an undrafted free agent.

While the competition for snaps will be intense in such a deep group, Harris says the priority isn’t to stand out as an individual, but to make the running back position one of the backbones of the Patriots offense.

“It’s such an unselfish group. There’s no egos,” Harris said. “We’re all talented guys and we know that if we all come together, we can be one of the strongest positions groups and help this team be successful on offense.”

Harris’ breakthrough season came during one of the team’s roughest stretches in recent memory. Harris was called upon to carry a heavy load as the Patriots struggled to throw the ball consistently.

There was plenty to like from Harris, but not from the team’s performance in general. He’s ready to leave that season in the past.

“It was a good year, here and there,” Harris said. “Obviously, we had our ups and downs. This is a new year. We’re facing new challenges, individually, collectively as a team, as a unit, as an organization. It’s just about improving. You want to get past last year. It’s over with. It’s done. So what is this team gonna be? What’s our identity gonna be? How we’re gonna be this year as a team? That’s what we’re focused on, just improving and getting better every single day that we’re out here.”

The Patriots are back in practice Friday and Saturday, but are not allowed to put pads on until Tuesday, per NFL rules. For now, it’s limited contact so far in camp.


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