FOXBORO, Mass. — As Patriots training camp has worn on, Duron Harmon keeps getting more work with the first-team defense.
It started about a week into camp when Harmon and second-year safety Tavon Wilson were sharing reps with the first team. Now, whenever Devin McCourty kicks down to cornerback, Harmon comes in to play the deep safety role in his stead.
It’s obvious Harmon has been impressing the Patriots’ coaches, or else he wouldn’t be getting so many valuable reps in practice. He didn’t start Friday’s game against the Eagles, but he did play most of the game in that deep free safety role. Harmon was a surprise third-rounder out of Rutgers in the 2013 draft, but Bill Belichick obviously saw something in the former Scarlet Knight he liked. Belichick continues to be impressed by Harmon.
“Duron has had a good camp. He’s done well,” Belichick said. “He missed some time in the spring but he’s smart, he’s a very instinctive player, picks things up pretty quickly. I’m sure he’s worked with Devin a lot back there with communication and adjustments as well as Steve [Gregory], Adrian [Wilson], the rest of them. He’s done well.”
Belichick also mentioned that Harmon has worked with the special teams unit and that he offers the team some positional flexibility. Harmon played both strong safety and free safety in college, but he said he’s comfortable playing wherever Belichick tells him to line up.
“I don’t know. I think I can play either position,” Harmon said when asked if he felt comfortable playing back deep at free safety. “But I’m just playing what they ask me to play right now. That’s the position they’re asking me to play. I’m trying to get better at that each and every day. There’s stuff that I can continue to get better and improve on. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Even though Belichick praised Harmon for picking things up quickly on defense, Harmon wouldn’t say he’s got the system down pat just yet.
“I’m trying. It’s coming. It’s coming,” Harmon said. “It’s more comfortable. But at the end of the day, I know that playbook is big and I still have a lot more to learn. I got to take that approach each and every day . I can never get comfortable and think I got the playbook. Because that’s going to be the day when it bites me in the butt.”
Harmon looks comfortable on the playing field so far. But that just might be those impressive instincts Belichick praised in his morning press conference. Harmon wouldn’t admit he’s comfortable in the NFL just yet, though.
“I would say I’m getting there,” Harmon said after quieting his young son, who was hugging his father’s leg. “I’ll just leave it at that. I’m getting there. I’m not nowhere near close to where I want to be at the comfort level. But I’m getting there and I’m making progress.”
Harmon must at least feel familiar during the Patriots-Buccaneers joint practices. His old college coach, Greg Schiano, is heading up the Bucs, and there are 18 Rutgers players between the two teams. Harmon spent a long time chatting up his former teammate, Tampa Bay rookie linebacker Ka’lial Glaud, inside the family/VIP tent after practice. Harmon said he’s glad his former teammates are getting a chance in the NFL.
“It is cool, just seeing that people get to keep playing,” Harmon said, “and living their dreams. Because everybody doesn’t get to the NFL. Free agent, drafted, it doesn’t matter. Everybody doesn’t get here. Just for all my friends to get that opportunity to play at that next level. It’s very encouraging and exciting.”
Harmon said he spoke to Schiano before the session began. Like other Patriots rookies have stressed this season, Harmon isn’t focusing on the past.
“Yeah, I talked to him at the beginning of practice,” Harmon said. “Just said hello. Said I was doing a good job, keep it up. Just very brief. Because at the end of the day, my mind is focused on getting better each and every day.”
Schiano said he’s happy that nine of his former players have found a home in New England. Schiano had praise for Belichick and his program.
“Well I’m happy those guys are getting an opportunity to play for somebody who’s a good person and a great football coach,” Schiano said. “That’s what I want for the kids that we recruited and brought there. We just want them to be in a program where they can continue with the core values that we had there.”
Harmon talked about one of those core values when asked what he took away from playing with Schiano at Rutgers.
“One thing that he really put in my brain is just mental toughness,” Harmon said. “I think that’s something that I really took away from his program. And something that’s carried deep in my heart.”
Gregory and both Wilsons have struggled at times in coverage during camp. All three players are best playing inside the box at strong safety, so if McCourty ever had to move over to cornerback, Harmon may find himself in a starting role with the Patriots. If New England decides to play some Cover 2 this season, Harmon’s deep skills may come in hand. The rookie could find himself back at safety with his former Rutgers teammate and mentor, McCourty.