N’Keal Harry’s trainer says Cam Newton is partly to blame for the WR’s lack of production
Even with Rams cornerback Darious Williams giving receiver N’Keal Harry a cushion of 10 yards before the snap, the wideout managed to get past the defensive back to create separation downfield.
Midway through the route, Harry chopped his feet, as if he were stopping to turn and catch the ball. Williams bit hard, lurching at Harry in an attempt to get proper position. But then Harry continued his route downfield, where he’d created ample separation. Though quarterback Cam Newton underthrew Harry with a high, arcing pass, the receiver hauled in a 30-yard catch, the longest of his career. It was an example of what he did so often in college: make a big play in a contested-catch situation.
It was the kind of play Harry has worked so hard to produce with greater consistency after managing 41 catches for 382 yards and four touchdowns in 18 games played. Part of Harry’s work has been with trainer Rischad Whitfield, a footwork guru who has worked with stars like Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, David Montgomery, Mecole Hardman, CeeDee Lamb and Emmanuel Sanders. Harry and Whitfield work together in the offseason.
“He’s a first-round draft pick, so he’s got to live up to it this year,” Whitfield told Patriots Wire on Tuesday.
“We’ve got a new quarterback. We’ve got to put some of that (expletive) on Cam,” Whitfield said. “Cam hasn’t been the most accurate this year. Like if (N’Keal) had Tom Brady, Tom Brady would’ve fed him. But we’re back there with Cam and Cam’s getting acclimated to the offense, too.”
Whitfield added: “It’s a big deal coming from Tom Brady to Cam Newton. … That’s one of Cam Newton’s biggest issues is mechanics.”
Newton has made a point of taking Harry under his wing. The quarterback has repeatedly supported the receiver in press conferences.
Whitfield reassured that Newton and Harry would develop better chemistry as the quarterback grew more acclimated to the offense. “I like Cam, but I’m not sure what happened. … I think next year will be better for both,” Whitfield said. The Patriots’ quarterback situation could be different next year, however. Newton is on a one-year contract and could land with another team this offseason. In that scenario, Harry would need to figure out how to develop a rapport with the next guy.
In the meantime, Harry needs to retain his standing on the roster. When the receiver missed two weeks with a concussion, it gave Jakobi Meyers and opportunity to shine. Damiere Byrd has been the team’s No. 1 receiver. Julian Edelman is “day-to-day” in terms of returning from injured reserve. There will be competition to get on the field.
“Watching N’Keal last year, the biggest issue was release quickness and getting separation off the line of scrimmage,” Whitfield said. “He’s a good route runner. He’s got good hands. He just couldn’t get separation. Separation is key in the NFL. In the NFL, you’ve got to win one-on-one matchups. So that’s what we worked on: suddenness, quick-twitch and release drills.”
And there have been flashes of progress. Harry’s win against Williams, the Rams’ No. 2 cornerback, was a sign of development. Bill Belichick said Monday that Harry “started to come on here in the last few weeks.” Quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch credited Harry’s progress to “practicing recently at a high level.” The receiver’s touchdown against the Chiefs in Week 4 was an impressive play, too.
“When he played the Chiefs, you see that outside release?” Whitfield asked. “All he needs is a little bit of separation. He’s a big dude. He’s got strength.”
Harry’s touchdown against the Chiefs was a demonstration of beating press coverage. The wideout shook cornerback Rashad Fenton at the line of scrimmage and got enough leverage to get past the defensive back. At that point, quarterback Jarrett Stidham dropped the ball into the window Harry created. Six points. Though that highlight was early in the season, these impressive catches are beginning to become a pattern over the last few weeks.
“Luckily the quarterback trusts him to catch the football and like you saw (Thursday) night, go up and get it,” receivers coach Mick Lombardi said this week. “As he starts to learn how to play and who he is playing against and how we can be effective on those certain plays.”
But it seems Harry still has the same skills to work on. When asked what Whitfield would do with Harry if they resumed their work immediately, the trainer listed much of what they did last offseason.
“If me and N’Keal were working right now, the first thing we’re doing is working on quickness and acceleration,” Whitfield said. “We’ve got to work on quickness and acceleration. Any receiver — it ain’t strength, it ain’t none of that — they’ve got to be able to escape those hard corners. You know what I mean? Those Jalen Ramseys, those Darrius Slays, those Xavien Howards.”
Harry will, in fact, play against Howard this week when New England faces the Miami Dolphins in Week 15. It will be yet another opportunity for Harry to be a bigger part of the passing offense, which ranks last in the NFL in touchdowns and fourth-worst in passing yards per game.