Duron Harmon Viewed As One Of Patriots’ Five Best Defensive Backs?

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FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick takes a slightly unconventional, yet astute, approach to building his defense.

If one position is weaker than another, he simply picks the best 11 players and does his best to make it work. The Patriots experimented with using multiple safeties on the field at the same time last season, deploying Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon on passing downs, but based on recent practices, that alignment could be the norm this season.

The Patriots’ primary nickel secondary since Saturday has consisted of Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, Tarell Brown and Duron Harmon. (I’d get into specific positions, but it violates the Patriots’ rules for practice reporting.) That continued Wednesday in West Virginia, according to those on hand for the joint practices with the New Orleans Saints, which means we could see it in Saturday’s preseason game.

The Patriots signed Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and Tarell Brown and drafted Darryl Roberts as they shook up their cornerback corps this offseason. The Patriots elected not to re-sign free agents Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and they released Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard. Logan Ryan, a 2013 third-round pick, also is in the mix for a potential starting role.

For now, however, the Patriots are using McCourty, Chung, Harmon and Brown’s versatility to their advantage. McCourty began his NFL career at cornerback, Chung has been used in the past in 1-on-1 coverage and at linebacker, Harmon played outside during the Patriots’ preseason opener, and Brown has been excelling in the slot in recent practices.

Harmon, another 2013 third-round pick, has two solid seasons under his belt as a reserve, but he might be ready to make the jump to being a full-time player.

“I think just my confidence is coming just from me going out there each day trying to get better,” Harmon said Tuesday. “That’s where the confidence really comes, just repeating excellence over and over, and that’s what I’m striving for.”

Harmon backed up McCourty and Steve Gregory at both free safety and strong safety as a rookie, accumulating 433 total snaps. He didn’t allow a single catch in 321 snaps last season as a passing-downs specialist. The Rutgers product played free safety when McCourty came down near the line of scrimmage, and he played next to McCourty in some third-down situations. He didn’t start any games, but he made one of the most important plays of the Patriots’ season, intercepting Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco with 1:46 left in their divisional-round playoff game.

The Patriots are extremely deep at safety, with 2015 second-round pick Jordan Richards, 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson and special-teams ace Nate Ebner behind McCourty, Harmon and Chung. Since the Patriots’ cornerback group was weakened this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that safety depth put to use as they take on more prominent roles.

If Belichick decides Harmon is more worthy of a starting spot in the Patriots’ defense than the Patriots’ Nos. 3 or 4 cornerbacks, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shift players to new positions to make it work.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images

 

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