FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots plan to activate running back Sony Michel off injured reserve Saturday, a source confirmed, which will add depth behind the team’s new No. 1 rusher, Damien Harris.
Coach Bill Belichick foreshadowed Michel’s return on Wednesday, saying the running back was working hard and would “hopefully” be coming back. The Patriots have made a decisive turn toward a power running approach in recent weeks — led by Harris and an athletic, hard-nosed offensive line — so having a stocked running back depth chart aids that approach.
Harris, who stepped in after Michel injured his quad in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 27, leads the Patriots with 471 yards on 85 carries (5.5 avg.) with one touchdown.
Harris has been playing through chest and ankle injuries, so now Michel provides insurance alongside veteran Rex Burkhead and passing back James White. Rookie J.J. Taylor, who made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona, is a fifth option who is on more of a developmental track.
The Patriots (4-5) visit the Houston Texans (2-7) on Sunday, and the rushing attack figures to be a central part of the game plan.
Houston ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (167.4), and average yards allowed per carry (5.2). Meanwhile, the Patriots rank third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (161.1) and seventh in average yards per carry (4.8).
Michel projects to be eased into the mix Sunday, if he plays at all, after missing the last six games. His extended absence included a positive COVID-19 test, so he is returning from both an illness and injury.
In the first three games of the season, Michel totaled 173 yards on 26 carries with one touchdown.
To make room for Michel, the Patriots have informed fourth-year defensive end Derek Rivers and second-year guard Hjalte Froholdt that they are being waived, according to league sources. The team also plans to sign linebacker Terez Hall to the 53-man roster from the practice squad after he was promoted as a standard elevation the last two weeks.
NFL Network first reported the Patriots’ plans to activate Michel off injured reserve.