FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick was criticized during the 2013 NFL draft when he went to the Rutgers well one too many times. Belichick might wind up having the last laugh, however, since it appears he found a couple of winners in defensive backs Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.
Harmon and Ryan are in very different situations going into the 2014 season. Harmon is the favorite to win the starting strong safety spot next to Devin McCourty, while Ryan is suddenly competing with Pro Bowl selections Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner for reps. The different circumstances didn’t change either player’s approach this offseason, however.
“I can’t even put a limit on it,” Ryan said Thursday after the Patriots’ final day of minicamp about how much work he and Harmon put in off the field. “A lot more than — probably just as much, if not more, work off the field than you see on. Probably at least double what you see.”
Their determination to fit in and flourish in head coach Bill Belichick’s defense has inspired their mentor, defensive captain McCourty, who also played for Rutgers.
“I think the coolest thing about watching those two is they stayed up here most of the offseason,” McCourty said Wednesday at NESN. “They were already ahead when we came back for the offseason program. You could just see how focused they are on coming back and having big years. Duron knows it’s an open spot at the other safety position. And that’s how he attacked it this offseason. He did everything possible to put himself in competition and go out there and win it.”
That extra work included studying some of the NFL’s best safeties, including McCourty, Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Dashon Goldson, the San Francisco 49ers’ Antoine Bethea and Cleveland Browns strong safety Donte Whitner.
“I watched them, I tried to watch different techniques that they utilize,” Harmon said. “I tried to watch how they play, how they’re physical, how they play on the line of the scrimmage, how they are in the deep part of the field. And just seeing what type of football players they are, and try to utilize that with some of my game. Also, I just went over different coverages that we run and just drilled myself, going over different formations, watching film, just keep drilling myself so it would all be second nature to me when I’m on the field.”
The Patriots are mixing different players, including Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson, next to McCourty at strong safety, but it would be shocking if Harmon doesn’t earn the starting role out of training camp.
Ryan seems to face an uphill battle to earn reps this season with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner ahead of him on the depth chart, and last year’s starters Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington also in the mix. But Ryan doesn’t seem bothered that the Patriots brought in a couple of Pro Bowl selection as competition.
“I don’t think he’s worried about a lot of new faces,” McCourty said. “He just knows that if he gets on the field, he has a chance to go out there and make plays.”
Ryan looks at Browner and Revis as competition, not as being the definite No. 1 and 2 players on the Patriots’ depth chart.
“It’s an opportunity to learn from two guys that have been to Pro Bowls,” Ryan said. “I think it’s great. They’re great to learn from. They’re great guys to compete with. They didn’t come here for me to back down to anybody. They’re my peers, I look up to them in a sense of playing the position, but I also come out, and I tell them I’m going to push them every single day. I look at it that I’m on a journey, and I want to have a succesful career in the NFL.”
Harmon and Ryan’s hard work is pushing McCourty, who’s known as one of the smartest and hardest-working players on the Patriots’ defense.
“Watching both of them, it inspires me. I’m always in there with those two trying to get extra work in,” McCourty said. “I think it’s good, once you’ve been in the league for a while you get some young guys that are in there and they’re hungry. It reminds you to stay hungry and keep working hard.”