Patriots Camp

Bill Belichick: Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris ‘have taken a big jump'

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The New England Patriots reportedly have interest in Dalvin Cook, but he said Friday morning on NFL Network that the odds of him signing with the New York Jets are "pretty high."

The free agent running back has a visit with the Jets this weekend, and he might not leave without a contract.

If the Patriots do miss out on Cook, they won't have much experience or trustworthy depth behind starter Rhamondre Stevenson. The next two players on the depth chart are 2022 draft picks Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris.

Strong and Harris combined for just 20 rushing attempts as rookies last season, although they did impress during a Week 14 win over the Arizona Cardinals when Stevenson suffered an injury in the first half.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is pleased with the progress that both young running backs have made since last season.

"Those are two other guys who have taken a big jump in Year 2, good offseasons and way ahead of where they were last year," Belichick told reporters Friday morning at training camp. "Both showed flashes of good things last year, and I think the experience and confidence with them is much greater than it was last year.

"Obviously the biggest challenge for all running backs is pass protection, blitz pickup, the passing game. All of those guys are more comfortable carrying the ball than some of the other things that come with the position, but they've worked hard on that. We'll see how it goes."

The Patriots have a strong history of drafting running backs after the first round and turning them into productive players. Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, James White and Stevenson are some of the best examples over the last 15 years.

Even if just one of Strong or Harris shows major improvement this coming season, that could be enough for the Patriots to have good depth at running back, assuming Stevenson stays healthy.

Not adding another veteran to the group is a risk, though. The Patriots have shown interest in Cook, Leonard Fournette and Darrell Henderson, per reports over the last few weeks. But at the moment, they seem fairly content just rolling with what they have. That puts a lot of pressure on Stevenson to be healthy and just as productive as he was in 2022.

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