By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Friday marked the final day of training camp at Gillette Stadium before the Patriots head off to Detroit for joint practice sessions next week in advance of their preseason opener.
Friday’s practice session included an increased workload for left tackle Isaiah Wynn, as well as ample opportunity for rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham. And in one of the more intriguing developments of the summer, it involved some added activity for second-year running back Sony Michel in a receiving role.
That’s been building a bit of late.
Sony Michel has been split out wide a lot today. Wonder if the Patriots want to use him more as a pass catcher this year
— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) August 1, 2019
Sony Michel looks much smoother as a pass catcher this summer in 7-on-7s than he was as a rookie.
— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) August 2, 2019
RBs heavily involved in the passing game today. Thought Sony Michel and Damien Harris looked good catching the ball. No one is expecting Michel to catch 50 balls, but it’s reasonable to predict an improvement from a year ago (11 targets in 13 reg season games)
— Kevin Duffy (@KevinRDuffy) August 2, 2019
Jakobi Meyers led the Tom Brady offense with four receptions in team drills. Sony Michel had three connections with Brady. Promising development for each.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 2, 2019
That’s significant because, for as strong as Michel’s rookie season was a runner (931 rushing yards, 6 TDs in the regular season; 336 yards, 6 TDs in the playoffs), he really didn’t make much of an impact in the passing game.
Michel was targeted just 11 times, making seven receptions for 50 yards. Michel was not a major receiving threat in college, but he still managed to catch 64 passes for 621 yards and six touchdowns at Georgia.
Michel being slow to catch on in the passing game last year was not without reason. A midsummer knee injury cost Michel the bulk of training camp, all of the preseason and the first game of the season, putting the rookie behind the eight ball with regard to getting reps in the offense. When he did run routes in games, he was often a step or two off, and his connection with Tom Brady simply was not there. Instead of trying to force it, Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick simply went away from it. After five targets (for two receptions and six yards) in his first two games, Michel was targeted just six times for the rest of the year. He was not targeted at all in six games.
That also had to do with the prolific season James White had as a pass catcher out of the backfield. White was actually the most-targeted receiver on the roster, with 123, and his 87 receptions for 751 yards and seven touchdowns stood neck-and-neck with Julian Edelman’s contributions as the most significant for the entire Patriots offense.
It obviously worked, as the Patriots managed to rank fourth in the NFL in scoring and fifth in offensive yards per game, despite a somewhat thin crew of pass catchers. With Rob Gronkowski now retired, though, the time is ripe for Michel to expand his game to help add some layers of unpredictability for a Patriots offense that is going to need it.