FOXBOROUGH — Sony Michel already speaks like a Patriot. Some first-round picks might enter training camp with a sense of entitlement. Michel simply replaced “I’’ with “we’’ in his pronoun pouch and kept it moving.
One could hardly blame Michel for carrying a succulent aftertaste from his shining senior season at Georgia with him to Foxborough.
Once merely a change-of-pace option blockaded in the backfield by his close friend Nick Chubb, Michel pried his way into a job-share. Chubb is second all-time among Bulldog backs in career rushing yards, trailing the great Herschel Walker. By the close of 2017, Michel ranked third.
NFL training camps offer a harsh lesson in perspective. Coaches pounce on every mistake, roster jockeying intensifies with time, and fatigue is a common theme. But Michel appears more than willing to retire his collegiate laurels, and Sunday’s practice offered a prime example.
Those lining the fields behind Gillette Stadium were treated to a taste of Michel’s electrifying speed during 11-on-11 drills. He took a right-end sweep the distance — nearly 50 yards — slicing through multiple levels of defense and accelerating past Deatrich Wise Jr. to plenty of supportive yelps.
After practice, Michel sounded like someone who has worn the Patriot uniform for years.
“That was pretty cool energy, but the most impressive thing was the team effort: everybody executing their job and actually giving the play an ability to happen,’’ he said. “That’s the most important part, everybody doing their job and making the play happen.’’
Michel made plenty of things happen in Athens, Ga., with lengthy scampers often entering into the equation. By the end of the 2017 season, Chubb (who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns four slots after Michel at No. 35) had amassed 67 more carries than Michel but only 118 more yards.
Michel’s propensity to elude tacklers led to stunning yards-per-carry averages. In a 45-14 rout at Vanderbilt last Oct. 7, Michel ran 12 times for 150 yards. Three weeks later, as Georgia trounced Florida, he racked up 137 yards on just six touches, scoring from 74 and 45 yards out.
On New Year’s Day, in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, Michel was named the game’s offensive MVP, compiling 181 yards on 11 carries, snaring 4 receptions for 41 yards, and scoring four times.
Having excelled in a time-share at Georgia bodes well for Michel’s prospects in New England.
Even with Dion Lewis off to Tennessee, a roster crunch at running back is inevitable. Mike Gillislee was absent from camp over the weekend but was expected to return soon. Rex Burkhead is the feisty type of goal-line threat Bill Belichick values. Jeremy Hill figures to be a lock for the 53-man roster if he’s recovered from the bone-shattering hit Wise laid on him in Saturday’s practice. Brandon Bolden adds special teams expertise. James White has a Super Bowl-winning touchdown to his name.
Instead of cowering at the competition, Michel is embracing it.
“My thoughts [are] to come in and learn as much as possible and to do whatever’s asked of me,’’ said Michel. “No matter what it is, I have to be willing to do it and do it to the best of my ability.
“The Patriots have some pretty good backs. I’m actually getting a chance to learn from one of them, James White.’’
Though Michel mentioned other names, White appears to be his primary professor. It’s fitting, since Michel will need to exhibit pass-catching prowess like his mentor should he crack the rotation in Year 1. On Sunday, Tom Brady’s first live reps of practice included a successful screen pass to Michel.
The sailing won’t be as smooth as it was at Georgia. On Saturday, Michel fumbled — the worst sin a Patriot back can commit.
But he was right there 24 hours later, fielding questions with his head held high, hardly looking the part of rookie.
Asked whether he’d ever done drills in front of a larger crowd, Michel said, “No. Different rules. This is a different level. There are going to be different things happening.
“I think it’s a pretty cool experience for the fans to be able to see what we do. For me, it’s the same thing: I have to be locked in and be willing to learn.’’