BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots have a well-publicized quarterback competition taking place. But there’s another one taking place in the backfield, too.

With Damien Harris entering his third year in the league, many have wondered aloud if he’s in position to wrest the top spot on the running back depth chart away from Sony Michel. On Thursday morning, Bill Belichick confirmed that to be the case.

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“Damien was a player who improved a lot from year one to year two. And now this year, he’s in a little bit different role now where he has an opportunity to really compete for the lead spot,” Belichick said on Thursday, prior to the Patriots’ second practice of training camp.

Harris was one of the most accomplished running backs in Alabama program history when the Patriots drafted him in 2018. He rushed for 2,741 yards during his collegiate career, which ranks ninth all time in Crimson Tide program history. His 23 rushing touchdowns rank 14th in Alabama history, too.

But the two-time national champion had to wait upon arriving in New England, getting just four carries in his two games of being active as a rookie in 2019, while Michael, James White and Rex Burkhead got the bulk of New England’s carries.

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Last year, Harris got his chance, and he made the most of it. He averaged 5 yards per carry rushing for 691 yards and two touchdowns on 137 attempts in 10 games. Michel, meanwhile, ran for 449 yards and a touchdown on just 79 carries in his nine games.

That situation, combined with the Patriots declining the fifth-year option on Michel for 2022, indicated that the door was open for Harris to really grab a hold of that No. 1 back role.

While he’ll still have to earn it, Belichick spoke highly of Harris’ commitment level.

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“He’s embraced that,” Belichick said of the competition. “He’s worked hard. He’s been here since, you know, the day after the season was over, he’s worked as hard as anybody has in the offseason. So I’m sure that will help his preparation heading into this camp, and we’ll see how he does. But he’s worked extremely hard. He’s a very dedicated player, and I’ve been impressed with the commitment that he has shown.”

CBSBoston.com Staff