FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — N’Keal Harry has not had the sort of debut season that might be expected from a first-round NFL draft choice.
The wide receiver from Arizona State, picked 32nd overall by the New England Patriots in the draft, was placed on injured reserve after the final cuts because of a lower-leg injury, was activated on Nov. 2, and has been biding his time since, waiting for an opportunity to contribute.
The waiting may be over this week, however. Harry could be active for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia.
From when he was allowed to resume practicing with the Patriots, Harry has had almost a month to shake off the rust and to familiarize himself with the expectations that veteran quarterback Tom Brady and his teammates will have for him.
"It feels great to be out there and to be able to be with my team," Harry said Thursday. "I’m just getting better every day with them and looking for my role and a way to help the team."
Harry was not given much of an opportunity to express himself in his first meeting with reporters since training camp. The availability lasted for 1 minute and 36 seconds and produced the answers to just five questions before Harry was spirited away by a member of the Patriots’ media relations staff.
Just two lockers down, however, veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu — himself a newcomer to the Patriots after his trade from Atlanta — assured reporters that Harry had what it takes to make a positive contribution to the Patriots’ frequently-changing receiving group.
"He’s a special kid," Sanu said. "He just has to go out and be himself, and let his abilities take over, don’t think too much, have fun. He’ll be good."
The Patriots certainly expected Harry to be good, as indicated by his last two seasons at Arizona State in which he made 155 of his 213 receptions and gained 2,230 of his 2,889 yards, scoring 17 of his 22 touchdowns.
But during joint practices with the Detroit Lions in the preseason, Harry suffered the leg injury. He tried to play in the preseason game at Ford Field but went to the sideline early.
He said Thursday he did not regret trying to play through the injury.
"No, I don’t have any regrets," he said. "I don’t need to show anything. Going out there and playing hard, playing through stuff, that’s just the type of mentality I have, and that’s just the type of mindset I grew up having. It wasn’t me showing toughness or anything, that’s just me."
Harry said the stint on injured reserve may have been a blessing in disguise, in that it gave him more time to familiarize himself with the playbook.
"I just looked at the positive things in it," Harry said. "God has done so much throughout my life, he’s put stepping stones in certain places, so I just looked at it the same way."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was noncommittal about whether Harry would be on the game-day roster for the Eagles.
"He’s a lot better than he was earlier in the year and two weeks ago," Belichick said Wednesday.
In the meantime, the 21-year-old rookie will just try to take care of business in practice and let the rest take care of itself.
"I’m going out there with the mentality to get better every day, just going out there and trying to do my best to get better at something every day," he said.