FOXBORO -- The media has attended three Patriots on-field activities so far this spring, and second-year running back Sony Michel has been on the field for none of them.
While Michel missed all of the preseason last year along with Weeks 1, 7 and 8 with knee injuries, the Georgia product was outstanding in the playoffs and seemed to finish the season without any issues, so no offseason surgeries seemed necessary.
In fact, based on video released by the Patriots of the first OTA session (closed to media), Michel was on the field and active. This makes his absence the last three sessions open to the media, including Tuesday and Wednesday's mandatory minicamp, a little concerning.
It is worth pointing out last year wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell participated in the first overall OTA session, but then wasn't ever seen again due to his knee issue.
That's not to say it could be the same scenario with Michel, but the Patriots running back has dealt with knee injuries since his days at Georgia, which is likely the reason for his absence now. It could be a case of the team managing him as much as it can and doing what it can to ensure he's as fresh as possible for the regular season. Even if that is the case, the young running back is missing some valuable time on the field.
After missing most of training camp and the preseason last year, Michel was a bit behind to open his NFL career, which was part of the reason why it took him a few games to get going. He also wasn't able to get many practice reps with Tom Brady last summer, which could be part of the reason why he wasn't ever able to play much of a role in the passing game.
Michel totaled 64 receptions over his four seasons in college, but only had seven last year with the Patriots.
Part of the Year 2 jump for Michel was expected to be having more of a role in the passing game to become a more versatile back, but not being on the field, especially when Brady is present this week, is not helping him achieve that.
On Wednesday, a lot of time was devoted to the running game and that included a good amount of screen passes. With no Michel, rookie Damien Harris saw an increased number of reps, some of which were with Brady, and that could impact Michel come the regular season.
When the selection of Harris was made, the thought was it could take away some of Michel's reps as it would be hard for him to maintain the same workload he had last year. Passing plays could be one of them, but that isn't good news for the second-year back. If Harris impresses enough, he potentially could take away more than just a few snaps.
With Michel unable to show much in the passing game, he can only really be used in obvious running situations. Harris, along with James White and Rex Burkhead, has shown the ability to do both. Versatility always means more playing time with the Patriots, and really for any running back.
Missing this time is making it even more difficult for Michel to take the Year 2 jump, which Bill Belichick alludes to all the time.The spring workouts may not be all that valuable for Brady and other veterans, but for a second-year running back like Michel, they are extremely valuable.
While it's too soon to declare it a huge problem, it's now become one of the top storylines we'll be watching the rest of the summer and into the season.
By Ryan Hannable