FOXBORO, Mass. — Thursday was a big day for rookie safety Duron Harmon.
After five practices of taking snaps with the third-string defense against Tim Tebow and the rest of the players on the bottom of the Patriots’ depth chart, Harmon took some snaps with some of the first-team defenders against Tom Brady. And Harmon held his own, playing next to Steve Gregory.
Safety is among the more interesting positions to watch during training camp this season. Now, Devin McCourty, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Harmon and Gregory have all taken snaps with the first team. McCourty will be one of the starters on Sundays, but it’s up to the remaining four to battle it out for the second spot.
“It’s fun,” Harmon said of playing with the first-teamers. “Any time you get to go out there and show your stuff with people of stature, it’s very fun and exciting. I just gotta keep working each and every day and keep learning the defense.”
The safeties each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so while one player may be named the starter next to McCourty, it’s likely at least two will be getting significant playing time. Adrian Wilson was benched by the Cardinals in nickel situations late last season. The Patriots may look at him differently than Arizona’s coaches or move him up to a hybrid-linebacker role, where he has spent time in training camp.
Tavon Wilson was used as the “money” defensive back last year, moving up to cover tight ends and wide receivers on the opposite side of the slot corner. If the Wilsons’ roles will be to play near the line of scrimmage, either Gregory or Harmon could take the deep half of the field with McCourty in certain scenarios.
Harmon is in the awkward position of having to learn from the veteran leaders on the team, while also competing with them for the starting job. There are few positions with better leadership on the Patriots than safety. Harmon has the group’s leader, McCourty, to learn from, as well as Wilson and Gregory, who have a combined 19 seasons in the NFL.
“It’s a lot of experience in that room,” Harmon said. “You got Steve Gregory, who played a lot of years. You got Adrian, who played a lot of years and Devin McCourty. And all you can do is just sit back and soak up all the knowledge and information that they display for us. The only thing I really do is just ask questions. Because why not ask questions from those guys with that much expertise and wisdom of the game?”
Harmon has the advantage of knowing McCourty from when the two were Scarlet Knights. Harmon was a freshman while McCourty was a senior captain. Now, Harmon is a rookie and McCourty is a Patriots captain.
“It helps a lot,” Harmon said on knowing McCourty from their time together at Rutgers. “Because when you come in to new situations and new places, you’re not really too comfortable with everybody. Sometimes you might be hesitant to ask a question because you might not want to sound stupid. But at the end of the day, me knowing him and having that personal relationship, it makes things a lot smoother and a lot easier for me. If I have a question, I can just go out and be like, ‘Hey Dev, what’s this?’ And i know he won’t look at me any type of way and just answer the question any way that he can.”
McCourty is far from the only former Rutgers player Harmon is playing with in New England. After Scott Vallone was signed Thursday, there are now nine former Scarlet Knights on the Patriots. Harmon said he likes the familiarity, but he’s trying to broaden his horizons.
“I try to hang out with everybody,” Harmon said. “I already got my personal relationships with my Rutgers guys, so at the end of the day, I try to get to know more people. These are also my teammates, these are my new teammates — the Patriots. I’m not going to sit around and just talk to Rutgers guys. Because at the end of the day, hopefully I’ll be going to battle with the Patriots. So I want to get to know them as well.”
After rookie camp, OTAs, minicamp and now six days of training camp, Harmon isn’t just getting comfortable with his new teammates, he’s also acclimating to the defense. That’s one of the main reasons Harmon was able to take snaps against Brady and Ryan Mallett on Thursday, rather than Tebow, like usual.
“I know after repping it so many times, eventually it does come a little bit more familiar,” Harmon said. “And all I can do is keep repping it so one day it can be instincts towards me. So I can just go out there and play as free as I can.”
That’s the goal of an NFL safety, to play off instincts and float around the field helping out teammates. Harmon is still trying to learn the Patriots’ defense, but he’s taking the challenge head on.
“It’s different, but at the same time, it’s just another challenge and obstacle to take and overcome,” Harmon said. “Because at the end of the day, life is about challenges and obstacles and the people who survive in this thing we call life are the ones who overcome them strong enough. I’m going out there each and every day just to try to learn this defense as best as I can.”
Those are some wise words from a 22-year-old rookie.
Photo via Twitter/@LaurieLynn0611