Rhamondre Stevenson is known for his brute strength, physical demeanor up the middle and ability to make defenders at the line of scrimmage. Anything else?
One can add hands and route-running to the list. That’s where the second-year New England Patriots running back has improved the most in his play entering the second half of training camp.
Stevenson, a fourth round pick out of Oklahoma, became a focal point on early downs for the Patriots’ rushing offense. With the retirement of James White earlier this month, New England coach Bill Belichick is looking for a third down pass-catcher to keep drives alive on short-yardage situations.
According to Belichick, Stevenson has been one of the more improved players in that area.
“He’s got good hands, catching the ball’s never really been an issue,” Beleichick said Tuesday prior to training camp. “It’s setting up defenders, recognizing coverages, when to sit down, when to break, depending on what the rest of the pattern is, how to maximize the distribution on the pattern.”
Last season, Stevenson was limited on passing downs. He recorded just 14 catches on 18 targets for 123 yards. His longest receiving play came in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers when he broke free for a 41-yard gain.
White wasn't the only pass-catching running back to leave Foxboro. Brandon Bolden, who finished with 41 receptions for 226 yards and touchdown, followed former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas, signing a one-year deal with the Raiders.
Last season, running backs accounted for 93 of New England’s 364 receptions. White, who was limited to three games after suffering a season-ending hip injury against the New Orleans Saints, recorded 12 catches for 94 yards and averaged 7.8 yards per play.
“The back’s always kind of the last person in the pattern for flare control,” Belichick added. “So, whatever the rest of the players are running, the back is generally responsible for filling in – being in the right spot so the quarterback has an outlet."
One area Belichick has been pleased with Stevenson is on pass blocking sets. Working hard at picking up blitzes and playing with a lower pad level, Stevenson continues to make headlines with his footwork and lower body balance working against pass-rushers.
“He’s way better than he was last year and he understands that’s an important part of his game," Belichick said. "It’s not just carrying the ball, it’s all things that go with the passing game. He’s done a great job.”
Stevenson finished second in rushing with 133 carries for 633 yards while scoring five rushing touchdowns in 2021. He is expected to split first-team reps with fourth-year pro Damien Harris.
New England is set to face the Panthers on Friday at Gillette Stadium at 7 p.m.