FOXBORO, Mass. – Duron Harmon has some big shoes to fill this weekend, but the New England Patriots rookie safety is used to that by now.
Harmon already filled in for Steve Gregory in the box at strong safety earlier in the season. Now, with Devin McCourty nursing a concussion, Harmon will have to fill in for his fellow Rutgers product back deep at free safety.
Playing deep is nothing new for Harmon. The former Scarlet Knight played both free and strong safety at Rutgers and he has played back deep this season when McCourty has moved down to cover tight ends and wide receivers in the Patriots’ dime package.
When you’re back deep, you just have to be a little bit more — I don’t really want to say passive — but just more aware,” Harmon said on Friday. “Because you can’t be as aggressive as you want to be when you’re playing in the box. You gotta know what’s going on. You have to be — back there, you just have to be aware. Aware of all your surroundings and where all the threats are.”
Harmon will have to keep track of Buffalo Bills speedster wide receiver T.J. Graham and rookie wideout Robert Woods this week. The Bills beat the Patriots for two touchdowns on deep balls in Week 1. Harmon will be in charge of preventing those this week.
“I think I’ll be fine, I mean, it’s just all about adapting and the experience,” Harmon said. “I’ve got experience, though, in both [positions]. And I’m learning, so I try to learn from Devin’s mistakes and Devin’s good things. Then I’ll go back and look at my things, things that made me successful. Then I’ll try to turn it all into this week.”
Harmon has got plenty of experience this season, and it not only came when Gregory was out with a broken thumb. Harmon has split the dime defensive back role with fellow Rutgers rookie Logan Ryan. Harmon has 362 snaps this year, according to Pro Football Focus, out of a total 1,096 played by the defense.
Harmon has two interceptions on the season. He has been targeted 10 times and allowed seven catches for 77 yards.
Playing so much in dime has helped Harmon build a rapport with both McCourty and Gregory. It has also allowed him to see the view from both the strong and free safety positions.
“It just helps being on the field with both of them,” Harmon said. “Just the communication helps. And definitely just sitting behind them and just seeing how they communicate together. Then when I try to go in there, I try to communicate in the same way so we don’t miss a beat.”
Harmon was a surprise third-round pick by the Patriots, but he appeared to pick things up quickly in Foxboro. Midway through training camp, he emerged as the backup at both safety positions, passing second-year players Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner. Harmon has held onto that backup job and it’s paying off now that he’s getting starting reps.
Harmon has dubbed Gregory “probably the smartest player I’ve been around or seen” in the past. He has heaped plenty of praise on McCourty, too. Their relationship goes back to Harmon’s freshman season at Rutgers. The two kept in touch after McCourty graduated and before Harmon was drafted by the Patriots.
“They both took me under their wing when I got here,” Harmon said about the veteran safeties. “The comfort level is there, it’s just all about execution now.”
Harmon played well in place of McCourty in the second half last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots did not allow a single completion on a pass over 20 yards.