With Montgomery out, Pats need Harris, Stevenson to step up
Foxborough, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ offense was already going to look much different this season following the retirement of running back James White.
One game into the season, they are faced with another major adjustment at the position after veteran Ty Montgomery was placed on injured reserve with a right knee injury.
“We feel good about our depth in the backs. We have good backs,” coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s tough to lose Ty, but we have a couple good players there. Then we have young players behind them. So we’ll see how it goes.”
White developed into the team’s go-to receiver out of the backfield on third down during his eight-year career, regularly serving as a dependable option first for quarterback Tom Brady, and Mac Jones last season.
So when White had surgery following a dislocated hip in Week 3 last season, the Patriots were proactive in making a contingency plan if he wasn’t ready in time for 2022.
It included signing the veteran Montgomery in March and drafting running back Pierre Strong.
Montgomery seized on the opportunity, impressing enough early in the preseason that Belichick acknowledged the coaching staff was already thinking about how his skillset as a runner and pass catcher could be utilized during the regular season.
“I think there’s a lot of different things he can do,” Belichick said last month.
That was before his knee injury in New England’s final exhibition game put his season in jeopardy.
The injury seemed to be less severe than it appeared after Montgomery was limited leading up to the season opener before being able to start against the Dolphins. He had three catches in the game and scored the Patriots’ lone touchdown in a 20-7 loss.
Now he’s out for at least the next four games.
It’s an early blow for a reconfigured offense that is still finding its way following an offseason of transition.
Still Belichick remains optimistic about a position that still features 2021 leading rusher Damien Harris and second-year Rhamondre Stevenson. Though utilized primarily as rushers, the duo did combine for 32 catches for 255 yards last season.
And there appears to be hope that Montgomery’s injury won’t be season-ending. One sign is that Belichick chose only to promote receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey from the practice squad to fill Montgomery’s roster spot.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Belichick said of Montgomery. “If he’s healthy, we’ll bring him back. ... How that will all turn out, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
There’s certainly room to get the traditional rushing attack more involved after New England ran the ball on just 22 out of 52 plays against Miami.
Harris carried nine times for 48 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and Stevenson eight times for 25 yards (3.1). But the Patriots were forced to go away from the ground game while they played catchup in the second half.
Getting a better start against a Steelers defense that allowed 133 rushing yards to Cincinnati and won’t have star linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt will be paramount. Watt will miss Sunday’s matchup with a left pectoral injury.
But Belichick isn’t expecting Pittsburgh to have to reinvent itself too much without him.
“They’re a good defensive team. They’re obviously better with Watt, but it is what it is. I can’t imagine they’re going to revamp their whole defense in one week, Belichick said. “I don’t know why they would. They play a lot of people anyway. They played a lot of people in the Cincinnati game. They played over 100 plays on defense.
“I think they’re probably pretty comfortable with what they have because they played those guys, and they played pretty well against, obviously, a good offense.”
NOTES: Mac Jones was a full participant in practice on Wednesday after sustaining a back injury against Miami. Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (toe) did not practice. Safety Joshuah Bledsoe (groin), safety Adrian Phillips (ribs), left guard Cole Strange (shoulder) and cornerback Shaun Wade (ankle) were all limited participants.