New England Patriots

May 23, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry catches a pass during organized team activities at Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff,

N’Keal Harry has a challenge ahead of him, and it’s not necessarily learning the Patriots’ playbook.

The rookie wide receiver is reportedly expected to return to practice this week, meaning he’ll have a chance to return to games as soon as Week 9 for a banged-up Patriots offense. But you might think Harry’s biggest issue is his lack of experience playing in the Patriots offense.

According to head coach Bill Belichick, the biggest thing for Harry will be his ability to withstand the physical rigors of practicing in an NFL setting. Harry injured his hamstring during the Patriots’ joint practice with the Lions in August.

And even if he’s fully healthy now – Harry has been spotted in the locker room looking like he has no physical limitations for weeks now, for what it’s worth – the rookie still has a lot to prove as far as getting through the physical grind of an NFL season the way veterans are used to doing.

Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry

Wide receiver N’Keal Harry catches a pass during Patriots organized team activities at the Gillette Stadium practice field. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

“I mean, he’s been able to keep up with everything. It’s just physically, he needs to be able to show that he can go out there and participate competitively and at the practice level that we’re at,” Belichick said during his Monday conference call. “Hopefully that’s where he’ll be, but we’ll make our final evaluations on that before we put him out there.”

It’s certainly not a personal charge against Harry. Dropping right into practice after six weeks on the shelf can be hard for anyone to accomplish. But ask Belichick and he’ll say that’s the biggest challenge on Harry’s plate.

The comments are ostensibly a good sign for Harry’s progress as far as learning the Patriots offense. He had occasional problems lining up in the right spot during training camp practices that were open to reporters. Perhaps he’s much further ahead now that he’s had six weeks to study up.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll step in and have immediate chemistry with Tom Brady. There’s another physical hurdle for Harry to leap when he returns to practice. The Patriots may need them to click relatively soon, especially if their top options at wideout continue to play through injuries or have to miss time.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at