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Rhamondre Stevenson Finishes Preseason As NFL's Leader In Rushing Yards, Touchdowns

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- When Rhamondre Stevenson showed up to Patriots training camp, the rookie couldn't complete the team's conditioning test. He's a come long way in a short time.

The rookie running back out of Oklahoma found the end zone once again on Sunday night, scoring his fifth touchdown of the three-game preseason.

And with the preseason now completed for all 32 NFL teams, Stevenson officially finished as the league leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. His 91-yard scamper vs. Washington also stood as the longest run of the summer.

Preseason stats may only be preseason stats, of course. But 217 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries is worth noting, no matter the circumstance.

Stevenson ran just five times for 23 yards against the Giants on Sunday, but he managed to find the end zone from nine yards out in the third quarter, a score that stretched the Patriots' lead to 19-7.

Stevenson gradually tapered off from his debut performance, which is natural when a rookie goes for 127 yards and two touchdowns in his first preseason game. But he ran for a solid 67 yards and two more touchdowns on 15 carries vs. Philadelphia, and he finished the preseason with a 7.2 average gain per carry. Even removing that 91-yard run from the equation, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on his other 29 rushes.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked about Stevenson's running style on Monday morning. The coach answered the question but went on to say that the rookie has put together a solid summer of work.

"I mean, every player has their own style, so I don't know. But he has size and he's got some quickness -- we saw some speed in the Washington game," Belichick said. "So, he's done a pretty good job with the ball in his hands. Ball security is something that every player has to always work on and be aware of, but I think he's improved a lot in his running and also just in general fundamentals and assignments and those kinds of things. So he's had a good camp."

In 19 collegiate games -- he played in just six last year at Oklahoma, due to a suspension -- Stevenson rushed for 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns on 165 carries. His final collegiate game came in the Cotton Bowl against Florida, when he earned MVP honors while rushing for 186 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

The 6-foot, 227-pound Stevenson was drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round, with the 120th overall pick. Running backs coach Ivan Fears began training camp by telling the media that Stevenson needed to improve just about everything about his game, and he later revealed that Stevenson's spot on the non-football injury list to start camp related to the rookie's inability to complete the team's conditioning test. Clearly, Stevenson put the work in, and the results in the games have showed that progress.

When the team traded away fourth-year back Sony Michel last week, it was an indication that the coaching staff feels comfortable with handing the ball to Stevenson when the games really count. And after finishing off the preseason with some eye-popping stats, Stevenson will be getting that opportunity in less than two weeks.

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