Coach Bill Belichick foreshadowed Michel's return Wednesday, saying Michel was working hard and would "hopefully" be coming back. The Patriots have made a decisive turn toward a power running approach in recent weeks -- led by Harris and an athletic, hard-nosed offensive line -- so having a stocked running back depth chart aids that approach.
Harris, who stepped in after Michel injured his quad in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 27, leads the Patriots with 471 yards on 85 carries (5.5 yards per carry) with one touchdown.
Harris has been playing through chest and ankle injuries, so Michel provides insurance alongside veteran Rex Burkhead and pass-catching back James White. Rookie J.J. Taylor, who made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona, is a fifth option who is on more of a developmental track.
The Patriots (4-5) visit the Houston Texans (2-7) on Sunday, and the rushing attack figures to be a central part of the game plan.
Houston ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (167.4), and average yards allowed per carry (5.2). Meanwhile, the Patriots rank third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (161.1) and seventh in average yards per carry (4.8).
Michel projects to be eased into the mix Sunday, if he plays at all, after missing the last six games. His extended absence included a positive COVID-19 test, so he is returning from both an illness and injury.
In the first three games of the season, Michel totaled 173 yards on 26 carries with one touchdown.
To make room for Michel, the Patriots waived fourth-year defensive end Derek Rivers and second-year guard Hjalte Froholdt. The team also signed linebacker Terez Hall to the 53-man roster from the practice squad after he was promoted as a standard elevation the past two weeks.
The club also announced that it elevated veteran receiver Donte Moncrief from the practice squad, providing insurance with N'Keal Harry questionable with an injured shoulder, and signed veteran defensive tackle Akeem Spence to the practice squad.