FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the biggest roars from the crowd at New England Patriots training camp this week was the result of a play from someone who recently said he didn't want to be with the team.
Wide receiver N'Keal Harry made a 30-yard, back-shoulder catch in a one-on-one passing drill, twisting his body in the air before his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame hit the ground with a thud. Boom!
It was a "did you see that?" training camp moment, with the crowd's reaction creating a palpable buzz and sparking a question: Could Harry, the 2019 first-round draft pick who hasn't met draft-slot expectations (45 catches and four TDs in two seasons), possibly author an unexpected comeback story with a team his agent said hasn't been a good fit?
Cornerback Jonathan Jones was defending Harry on the play, and he described what unfolded from his viewpoint -- with quarterback Cam Newton delivering the football.
"We played off coverage. It was a back-shoulder catch-and-throw, kind of one of those plays that they're good at, and they made the play. We're competing," Jones said, before sharing insight on what it's like matching up against Harry.
"He's physical. He's a big body, big-target radius. He's competitive. Every day he's out there to compete, and that's what you like to see."
That was a big part of what the Patriots liked about Harry coming out of Arizona State in 2019, leading them to select him with final pick of the first round, 32nd overall -- before pass-catchers such as Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf, who have had more success in their first two NFL seasons.
Receivers coach Mick Lombardi said Harry graded out well on the play as it was "a great job of not only being big, but also having a plan on the route, using his hands, and running down the field with speed and confidence."
The next day, Harry had another play that ignited a loud cheer, stretching his arms to snare a Newton missile on a slant that initially looked like it was thrown too far in front of him. Lombardi said it was the type of play that highlights an important fundamental -- catching the football away from the body.
Harry's positive results were also noted by assistant receivers coach Troy Brown, who said: "He came into camp with a great attitude, ready to go, in shape. He's fighting for a spot and done everything that we've asked him to do."
An injury in training camp as a rookie didn't help Harry's cause, and a 2020 season with limited practice time because of the coronavirus pandemic was also a challenge to overcome. When the Patriots signed free agents Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to significant contracts in March, pairing them with ascending diamond in the rough Jakobi Meyers, it pushed Harry further down the depth chart.
His agent, Jamal Tooson, publicly asked the Patriots to trade Harry before the start of training camp -- a request that wasn't granted.
"N'Keal and I have talked about it. I think we had a good conversation," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We have a good relationship, so [I'm] not going to get into all that."
Neither is Harry, 23, who has quietly put together seven straight practices in which he has caught pretty much every football thrown his way.
"Right now, I'm really not worried about anything trade-wise," he said. "I'm focused on how to be the best version of myself on the field."
Harry added it hasn't been awkward since the trade request went public and said, "I'm a Patriot right now. I'm very OK with being a Patriot."
While Harry isn't a projected starter, he is one injury away from potentially being thrust into that role. If the Patriots traded him, they would take a hit on the salary cap of between $1 million and $2 million, which would be a consideration for Belichick if he does decide to trade Harry.
For now, Harry is focused on what he can do on the field, and his highlight-reel play this week reflects how the approach is producing some early results for him.
He said one change he has made this season is focusing more on agility drills; in the past two years, he said, he had been focused on playing big and "lost a bit of wiggle."
"I feel like I've gotten off to a pretty good start," he said. "Obviously there's room for improvement in certain areas, but I'm pretty happy with the start I've gotten so far, and I'm looking forward to keeping that momentum.
"We have so many good players on this team, and at some point, at one point or another, we're going to be able to make a difference. I'm just trying to make sure I can fit in somewhere in there. ... I just feel like I can really help this team win, and I feel like I can have a big role within this team."