Patriots RB Sony Michel eager, but 'you have to trust the process'

Highlighting some New England Patriots hot topics in the form of a mailbag:

Sam, first-round draft choice Sony Michel said he's preparing to play this week, but he has remained limited in practice with a knee injury, so that creates a bit of uncertainty as it relates to his status (he is officially questionable, which means a 50-50 chance of playing). How close he is to playing will be learned by whether he even makes the trip to Jacksonville on Saturday. When Michel had the procedure to drain fluid from his knee in early August, it was relayed to me that his availability wasn't expected to be affected for most of the regular season. So he shouldn't be too far off.

Michel addressed reporters earlier this week and said being sidelined for the entirety of the preseason wasn't ideal.

"It can be difficult at times, because as a football player and competitor, you want to be on the field competing, being out there with the boys," he said, adding that he's "very eager" to see his first NFL action. "But at the end of the day, it's a process, and you have to trust the process."

Coach Bill Belichick assessed Michel's progress, saying, "He gets better every day. He missed a lot of plays in training camp and in training camp practices. He's gotten more of a chance to be involved with those more recently, and each time he runs them, he sees something a little different or reacts a little bit quicker or whatever it is and he gains more confidence by doing something, multiple, double-digit times instead of just a couple times."

As for the Patriots running backs entering this game, Michel isn't the only player to highlight. Rex Burkhead has been in the concussion protocol this week, and using 2017 as a barometer, those situations usually meant a player missed the next week's game. If that's the way it unfolds with Burkhead, it would leave just James White and Kenjon Barner as the running backs not on the injury report. Ralph Webb and Kenneth Farrow are players at the position on the practice squad.

Mike, I look at this a couple different ways. There is the exploration of bringing Dez Bryant in to get to know him, and then there is taking the plunge and actually signing him.

The team has made 20 transactions at wide receiver since July 23, which shows how they are exploring a variety of options. Since Sept. 2, they've brought receivers Brandon Tate, Brandon Reilly, Kendall Wright, Greg Ward, Corey Coleman and Bennie Fowler in for workouts, while claiming Chad Hansen and Amara Darboh on waivers and signing Jace Billingsley to the practice squad.

Why not bring Bryant in for a get-to-know-you meeting? It couldn't hurt.

To me, the reason would be twofold: They simply don't believe he can help, or they don't want everything else that comes with him-- the off-field buzz, etc.

When the latter topic is broached, the response is often, "But they did it with Randy Moss." That's true, but they might not view their situations as similar. As I recall, the Patriots had good intelligence on Moss that the root of his unhappiness in Oakland was based on competitiveness. The Raiders weren't winning, Moss spiraled downward, and the projection was that he would fall in line in the Patriots' culture.

Patrick, similar to when Vince Wilfork was here, the first thing I look at with a big, strong interior defensive tackle like Danny Shelton is how the team's run defense fared. Wilfork often talked about the pride he took in the overall run-defense numbers, and in the season opener, the Patriots had some issues as the Texans totaled 167 yards on 34 carries (4.9 average).

That obviously doesn't all fall on Shelton, because he's one cog of the overall unit, but that's where I start.

At the same time, I thought Belichick's breakdown of key plays on Patriots.com highlighted part of Shelton's game that was excellent: good work on the interior to help reset the line of scrimmage in the red zone. That was also critical, in general, in terms of keeping quarterback Deshaun Watson in the pocket.

So I look at it as a positive start for Shelton, with room for improvement as it relates to the overall run-defense unit.