New England Patriots: Duron Harmon

Checking the locks: Patriots safeties

July, 11, 2014
As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. Today, it's safeties.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDuron Harmon played in more than one-third of the Patriots' defensive snaps in 2013, and that figures to increase in 2014.
Sure-fire locks: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Near locks: Nate Ebner, Jemea Thomas

Trying to get in the door: Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Kanorris Davis, Shamiel Gary

Analysis: With the Patriots releasing veteran starter Steve Gregory in late February, it opened up a top role on the depth chart next to McCourty, and 2013 third-round pick Harmon is the leading candidate to fill it. Harmon served as the No. 3 safety last year, making three starts and playing on 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps during the course of the season. Special teams figures to play a significant role in which players earn the backup spots, and third-year player Ebner was working as the personal protector on the punt team in spring practices, which is a key role. Depending on how many safeties the Patriots keep, 2012 second-round pick Wilson could be on the outside looking in after his defensive plays dipped from 42.5 percent as a rookie to 1.6 percent in 2013.

Duron Harmon hits it off with students

April, 11, 2014
TAUNTON, Mass. -- As a reporter covering the New England Patriots, the greatest exposure to players comes on the field and in the locker room.

[+] EnlargeDuron Harmon
Mike Reiss/ESPNPatriots safety Duron Harmon got a warm welcome from third-graders at the Elizabeth Pole Elementary School in Taunton.
That’s what made Friday a bit different with second-year safety Duron Harmon, who surprised third-grade students at the Elizabeth Pole Elementary School in Taunton (about 20 miles from Gillette Stadium) as part of the team’s Celebrate Volunteerism campaign.

The 23-year-old Harmon made an immediate connection, which wasn’t a surprise considering his mother Dawn is a middle school teacher in Delaware and Harmon has a 2-year-old son, Christopher.

“It’s a great thing. The feeling I had, the warmth I had, I know that I’m blessed to get that feeling because anybody can’t come in here and get that type of welcome,” Harmon said of the visit.

Harmon remembered being in awe of high school players who came to visit him when he was a youngster.

“If I had the chance to meet an NFL player, I might of went crazy when I was younger,” he said. “So I’m just trying to help them realize that reading is very important.”

Harmon said that he reads every day to his son, who is active and thus has added a different type of wrinkle to Harmon's offseason program.

“He keeps me active in this offseason. I go work out and then I pick him up from day care and we’re playing football, basketball, baseball, kicking around a soccer ball," Harmon said. "With the weather being what it is right now, we’re outside every day. It’s just fun, any time you can have someone that looks up to you and really, really genuinely loves you, it’s a feeling that’s indescribable.”

Duron Harmon next man up at safety

April, 11, 2014
TAUNTON, Mass. – If the New England Patriots continue with the “next man up” theme that has been a significant part of their success in Bill Belichick’s 15-year coaching tenure, it is Duron Harmon’s time in 2014.

The first domino to fall came when starting safety Steve Gregory was released on Feb. 28, which opened the door for Harmon in his second season.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyDuron Harmon said he is aiming to learn more about the finer aspects of football during the offseason.
“Steve Gregory was like a big brother/uncle to me, somebody that literally sat me down all the time and watched film with me, broke things down, so he’s definitely going to be missed,” Harmon said Friday after reading to third-grade students at the Elizabeth Pole Elementary School as part of the team’s Celebrate Volunteerism campaign.

“It’s an opportunity for me to show that I am capable of playing and starting. But it all counts towards me. I have to show my worth to Coach Belichick and the coaching staff, and I’m eager to do that.”

Along those lines, Harmon has spent this offseason in Foxborough, and has been working out at Gillette Stadium with cornerback Logan Ryan every day. He’ll be joined by more teammates on April 21 for the official start of the team’s voluntary offseason program.

Harmon is listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds on the team’s roster, and he said Friday that he’s most comfortable in the 205-210 range. That qualifies him as a bigger safety and a potential nice complement to Devin McCourty (5-10, 195).

Harmon, who many viewed as a surprise third-round draft choice last year, played 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps in his rookie season. He started two of the team’s biggest games when Gregory was out with a broken thumb – a Nov. 18 loss at Carolina and a Nov. 24 win over the Broncos – and also was a contributor on special teams throughout the year.

He was asked what he felt good about from his rookie season, and what area he believes needs the most improvement.

“I felt good about just being out there, just getting comfortable out there,” he answered. “Toward the beginning of the season, I was just a little hesitant because playing in the NFL is different than playing in college [at Rutgers]. So just getting comfortable out there and getting repetitions.

“But then, I’d say one thing I still need to work on is just learning the game. There is always more you can learn. When I see Tom Brady still trying to learn as much as he can, so if a man is that good and plays that long is always trying to learn, I need to do the same thing.

“And definitely tackling. I think some games I tackled bad, and some games I tackled well. It was just an inconsistent effort that I know I need to be a lot more consistent with.”

Revisiting Harmon scouting report

March, 26, 2014
The New England Patriots have been busy re-tooling their secondary this offseason, adding cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner while parting ways with starting safety Steve Gregory.

There has been some chatter about how the team will replace Gregory, with the Boston Herald recently reporting that Logan Ryan may be transitioned to free safety, shifting Devin McCourty to strong safety.

While Ryan has some of the natural skills to play safety, one name that perhaps is flying under the radar for the Patriots is Duron Harmon.

Harmon was a third-round pick last year, though some draft gurus believed the Patriots reached for him. He was a fill-in starter for both Gregory and McCourty during injury situations, and our opinion is that he certainly held up.

In terms of strengths, Harmon has good instincts, is a reliable tackler, made good on opportunities to intercept the football last season and is tough. All of those translate well to a strong safety type role for the Patriots.

His limitations are that he's just a sufficient athlete and doesn't have the same range of a player like McCourty. Neither of those is glaring enough to the point that he doesn't have starting potential in the NFL.

So, at least in our view, Harmon would represent a good starting safety for the Patriots alongside McCourty.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of such an arrangement would be that McCourty would stay in his free safety role, something he excels at in preventing downfield throws.

The Patriots' defense was dramatically improved in limiting big passing plays last season after struggles in 2012, and part of that can be attributed to McCourty.

From a cornerback perspective, moving Ryan would leave the Patriots with four strongly competitive players at the position, but Browner will be unavailable for the season's first four games.

While Justin Green flashed at times last season, the team would be better off with its fourth cornerback (in Browner's absence) as either Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard or Logan Ryan -- depending on how the starting situation shakes out in training camp.

There's a lot of time in between then and now, and the Patriots could continue to address the secondary in the draft. But Harmon is a player worth keeping an eye on.

Pats improve in Kiper regrade

January, 23, 2014
One of our first instincts following the NFL draft is to assess how teams fared in the process.

Following last year's draft, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. graded the Patriots' class as a C+, noting at the time: "I don't see a starter out of this draft in the short-term, but they added players with some really good traits. It's just a matter of development now."

With a full season of tape study under his belt, Kiper has re-graded each team's draft class, and the Patriots' mark improved to a B.

"Is there a star in this draft, or even a Pro Bowl-caliber player? Maybe not," Kiper writes. "But that doesn't mean the Patriots didn't do an incredible job of plugging gaps with rookies they drafted and those they picked up as undrafted free agents to keep the ship afloat as long as they did."

"Bill Belichick deserves a lot of credit for utilizing these guys to the best of their ability, but there isn't anyone who wows you in this class," Kiper also writes. "Still, the grade definitely jumps."

He also notes that the Patriots had the second most snaps played by a rookie class in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while the team used 13 rookies in total.

Each of the seven drafted players made the active roster for the Patriots, with Logan Ryan, Aaron Dobson, Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon as the primary contributors.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones, a sixth-round pick of the Texans, and undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano also played extensively.

To see Kiper's full take on the draft re-grades (Insider content), click HERE.

Logan Ryan on Kiper Jr.'s rookie team

January, 3, 2014
On Friday, a pair of New England Patriots' defensive backs, safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Aqib Talib, were voted to the Associated Press second-team All Pro unit, joined by guard Logan Mankins.

McCourty and Talib were the cornerstones of the secondary, but the group was beefed up during this past draft with the selection of two Rutgers defensive backs in the third round, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

Harmon has been a fill-in starter for both Steve Gregory and McCourty at safety, while Ryan has seen his playing time increase throughout the season. He's even been used as a top two cornerback in the base defense as Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington have worked through injuries.

That, along with five interceptions (most among NFL rookies), landed Ryan on Mel Kiper Jr.'s All-Rookie team, as was recently posted on

Ryan is the only Patriot on the team, and he's joined in the secondary by cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (Falcons) and Nickell Robey (Bills), plus safeties Kenny Vaccaro (Saints) and Tyrann Mathieu (Cardinals).

One area that has stood out in regards to Ryan this season is his ball skills. That was an area of strength for him in college, though a slower time in the 40 at the combine (4.56 seconds) pushed him down into the third round.

That was good news for the Patriots, who plucked him with a pick acquired in a draft-day trade with Minnesota.

Ryan's ascension has helped the secondary go from an area of limitation in 2012 to one of the more dependable groups for the Patriots this season.

To see the full team (Insider content), click here Insider.

Picked-up pieces from 3rd-quarter review

December, 23, 2013
Picked-up pieces from reviewing the third quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. The biggest part of the quarter for the Patriots was coming up with two stops on fourth down, which are essentially turnovers. On the first (12:23 remaining), with cornerback Logan Ryan batting down a pass, quarterback Joe Flacco seemed to miss a better option underneath in Dennis Pitta. On the second (3:03 remaining), the Patriots won at the line of scrimmage with linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive tackle Sealver Siliga driving blockers back after shifting/moving right before the snap, and Rob Ninkovich using a swim move on right tackle Michael Oher to crash down the line and wrap up Ray Rice short of the sticks for no gain. The Patriots were the more physical team during the game, and that play was one example.

2. The Patriots stalled a bit offensively in the quarter, as their execution faltered and they also seemed be willing to play a bit closer to the vest given their double-digit lead. Quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t taking many chances, knowing that one mistake could help the Ravens get back in the game. While Julian Edelman was a star performer on the day, he did have a drop early in the quarter on a short pass that was essentially a glorified running play. Not the Patriots' best quarter offensively.

3. Chandler Jones’ 11.5 sacks leads the Patriots and is the most-often cited statistic when referencing his solid season, but there is more to his game than just sacks. A good example came on the third-and-3 play with 12:30 remaining, when Jones initially took himself out of his rush to chip Pitta and make it harder for him to get into his route. He did so, before going from zero-to-high-gear in an instant to surge up the middle and pressure Flacco into an incomplete pass. Jones doesn’t get credit for a sack on the play, but in many ways his ability to carry out the dual responsibilities effectively is more impressive than just a single sack.

4. In the last game that rookie safety Duron Harmon played extended snaps, Dec. 1 in Houston, his tackling wasn’t up to his personal standard. That is brought up here because on the second play that Harmon was on the field, replacing injured Devin McCourty, he had a sound wrap-up tackle on Pitta to limit him to a 4-yard gain on second-and-7 (13:00 remaining). Those are small things, but to a player like Harmon who's had limited reps of late, it's extremely important. It also ultimately contributed to the Patriots getting the Ravens to turn the ball over on downs two plays later.

5. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones’ hustle stands out, and it caught the eye on a three-play sequence. After locating the ball and shedding to make a tackle of Rice on a 1-yard gain (7:09 remaining), he then drew a hands-to-the-face penalty (6:43 remaining), before chasing down a screen play downfield (6:19 remaining). It is sometimes said that a player has a motor that never stops, and we’d put Jones in that category, with those three straight plays a good example of it.

6. One pregame storyline was if the Patriots might put cornerback Aqib Talib on receiver Torrey Smith. The Patriots didn’t match him up that way, playing Talib mostly on the defensive left side and letting him cover whichever Ravens receiver lined up across from him (most often seemed to be Jacoby Jones).

7. One head-scratcher: When the Ravens faced a third-and-1 from the Patriots’ 4 (3:10 remaining), they went with an empty set and Flacco in the shotgun. This against a Patriots run defense that entered the day ranked 31st in the NFL. So while the Patriots’ defense deserves credit for coming up with the stop in the critical situations, the feeling here is that the Ravens also made it easier for them with some questionable decision-making.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing some halftime thoughts of the New England Patriots' game against the Ravens (New England leads 17-0):

One of Patriots' best halves of the season: This has been, across the board, some of the best football the Patriots have played this season. All three phases are getting it done. On offense, a commitment to the ground game has stood out. On defense, the turnovers are back. And the special teams coverage has been outstanding, sparked by captain Matthew Slater. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't look completely comfortable.

Replay review critical for Patriots: Danny Amendola's late second-quarter fumble was overturned on replay, which was crucial for the Patriots because it could have been a momentum-swinging turn of events -- the Ravens getting the ball on a short field and then at the start of the third quarter. Turnovers are such a big part of the action, as we saw in the first quarter for the Patriots (Logan Ryan interception sets up the second touchdown).

Red-zone struggles corrected: One of the big storylines entering the game was the Patriots' red-zone performance (1 of 4 vs. Miami). They are 2 of 2 today, with a power running game (LeGarrette Blount) and then a well-designed pass play (Shane Vereen) the successful formula.

A lot of penalties: Ron Winter's crew has been busy tonight. It's always difficult to tell while watching live if all the calls are warranted, but our general preference are games with fewer flags. It seemed like a long half because of it, with little flow. This reminds us of the 2009 Patriots-Ravens regular-season game, in Foxborough, in which Winter was also the referee.

Injuries to monitor: Vereen left in the second quarter with a groin injury and has not returned. Brandon Bolden has assumed his role as the top "passing back." ... Safety Steve Gregory left in the second quarter with what looked like a right knee/leg injury. It looked signficant, and rookie Duron Harmon took his place. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned.

Ravens get the ball: The Patriots had called heads at the opening toss and it came up tails, with the Ravens deferring the choice to the second half. So the Ravens get the ball to open the second half.

Defensive groupings: 3 CB base package

December, 6, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the areas that will be charted throughout the season is the New England Patriots' defensive breakdown between their sub and base packages. This can highlight player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of each game.

What stood out from last Sunday's win against the Texans was that the team didn't go to its regular sub defense often (14 of 59 snaps).

Instead of adding a fifth defensive back against all three-receiver packages, the Patriots sometimes subbed out a safety (Duron Harmon/Steve Gregory) in favor of a third cornerback (Kyle Arrington). So while they technically remained in a base defense with four players in the secondary, it had a sub-package element to it.

We previously saw the Patriots use that package against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22 and it highlights some coaching creativity as they tailor a plan to each specific matchup.

That plan contributed to one of the highest percentages of "base" defense the Patriots have played this season (76.2 percent). The season average, entering the game, was 29.6 percent in base.

Overall, here are the numbers for the season (includes penalties):

Sub defense: 573 of 874 snaps (65.5 percent)
Base defense: 286 of 874 snaps (32.7 percent)
Short-yardage: 15 of 874 snaps (1.7 percent)

Football journey: Duron Harmon

November, 16, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With starting New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory unlikely to play on Monday night with a broken right thumb, rookie Duron Harmon is primed to move into the starting lineup.

Harmon was a surprise third-round draft choice out of Rutgers as many media-based draft analysts (and a handful of teams we've spoken with) had him projected to go in the later rounds, if at all. But the Patriots saw something others didn't and to this point it has worked out well for the team.

[+] EnlargeHarmon
AP Photo/Michael DwyerRookie safety Duron Harmon has had a solid rookie season through eight games for the Patriots.
Harmon has played in eight games as the No. 3 option on the depth chart, totaling 125 snaps on defense (mostly in sub packages) while also contributing on special teams units. The Magnolia, Del., native has had an interception in each of the past two games and coaches have credited him with nine tackles.

He shares his "football journey":

When he first started playing football: "I’ve been playing outside ever since I can remember, but I actually started in a league when I was 10."

What got him started playing football: "My grandfather used to take me to Delaware State football games every Saturday, every home game, and we would sit in the same seats."

First positions: "Running back and I played corner in Little League. I didn’t start playing safety until high school."

Favorite players growing up: "Michael Vick and Ricky Williams. At one point, I thought I was a quarterback and [Vick] was the guy at the time. And with Ricky Williams, when I played running back, I was also a Dolphins fan growing up. My mother bought me a Dan Marino jersey, a whole outfit when I was younger, and I used to just wear that around."

Role models in his life: "Definitely my mother [Dawn]. She’s a middle school teacher in Delaware. Also my father [Derik] works hard every day, a blue-collar worker; he works at Kraft General Foods. He missed a lot of my games in high school because he works at night, but he’s somebody I definitely look up to."

Top football memories of Caesar Rodney High School: "Winning the state championship -- growing up with a bunch of guys and doing what we set out to do our senior year, that was special."

Choosing to play football at Rutgers: "It was an up-and-coming program. I really liked the direction that Coach Schiano was taking the program, and it was close to home."

Favorite football memories from Rutgers: "Winning the Big East championship, even though the season didn’t play out at the end that we all hoped it would. Still, being the first Rutgers team to ever win the Big East championship was special."

Drafted in the third round by the Patriots: "It was exciting. Any time you see your dreams unfold before you eyes, it’s a great feeling."

Reaction to being labeled a 'surprise' pick by draftniks: "My agent was telling me ‘You could go anywhere, you did well in workouts and a lot of teams like your numbers, so just keep watching, you’ll definitely be drafted and things will be fine.' I can't really be upset that people didn’t know too much about me. There were a lot of great players on the [Rutgers] team -- Steve Beauharnais, Khaseem Greene, Logan Ryan, Marcus Cooper -- so for me to get overlooked, there isn't anything you can do about that. All I can do is continue to keep working, just trying to get better, and improving on my game."

Describing life as a Patriot: "It’s been a learning experience. Things are definitely different in college football, so all I can do is try to soak up as much knowledge from players like Steve [Gregory] and Dev [Devin McCourty] and keep learning, using this year as a year to get better."

What he prides himself on as a player: "Consistency. Coming into the league, you’re going to have your bumps and bruises, especially as a rookie. I’m just trying to learn how to be consistent, week in and week out."

What he loves about football: "The real question is what not to love about football for me. I like the idea of having a group of guys, a group of teammates, a group of brothers, and going out there and fighting for each other. I love that. I also the physicality of the game. I just like how you can apply what you experience in the game to life. There is always going to be adversity in football. No game is ever going to be the perfect game. When you can see that on the football field, it makes life a little bit easier. Are you going to stand up to it or run away from it?"

Lowest point in football: "I would probably say the Louisville game last year. There was a play that I could have made, I didn’t make it, and they ended up scoring. It’s a play that nine times out of 10 I know I’d make, but I didn’t and we ended up losing the game. I put a lot of pressure on myself after that. It was a tough time to get out of that little slump, but I got out of it."

Summing up his football journey: "There have been ups and downs, highs and lows, some good days and some bad days; that’s what I love the most about this game, it hits you with adversity and shows you what type of person you are and what type of person you want to be and can be."

Progress report: Rookies chip in

November, 7, 2013
The New England Patriots have received significant contributions from their rookie class this season. In Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, this season ranks near the top of the list, if not at the top, in this area.

Following up Field Yates' progress report on second-year players from this morning, here is a rookie breakdown (alphabetical order):

Punter Ryan Allen: The undrafted free agent ranks 10th in the NFL with a 46.4 average and 16th in net punting (39.9) as he's proven to be up to the task of replacing veteran Zoltan Mesko. He's also the holder on field goals, and Stephen Gostkowski is 22 of 23 this season. Allen's eight touchbacks are tied for the NFL high, which is an area for improvement.

Guard Chris Barker: Claimed on waivers from the Dolphins at the final roster cutdown, the undrafted free agent from Nevada dressed for the first three games of the season as veteran backup Will Svitek was working his way back from a knee injury, but hasn't played on offense. This looks like a red-shirt year for him as the Patriots have avoided the risk of another team claiming him on waivers (Dolphins?) should they try to move him to the practice squad.

Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The seventh-round draft choice from Rutgers has dressed for three games, but hasn't played on defense. This appears to be more of a red-shirt year for him.

Receiver Josh Boyce: The fourth-round draft choice from Texas Christian played in the first five games (1 catch, 24 yards) but has been inactive for the past four as veteran Austin Collie was viewed as a more consistent option. Boyce is one of the fastest receivers on the team, but appears to need a little more time to put it all together.

Defensive end Michael Buchanan: The seventh-round pick from Illinois opened the season as the primary right defensive end in sub packages, but a few struggles with rush-lane integrity (Oct. 6 vs. Bengals and Oct. 20 vs. Jets) led to the signing of veteran Andre Carter, who has since taken over that role. Buchanan contributes on special teams and is now No. 4 on the overall defensive end depth chart, with obvious upside.

Linebacker Jamie Collins: The second-round pick from Southern Mississippi has been a core special teams player and was integrated a bit more defensively after linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost to a season-ending injury Oct. 13. But after flashing a bit Oct. 20 vs. the Jets, he was pushed around in the first half against the Dolphins on Oct. 27 and has played sparingly on defense since. He has all the tools, but appears to need a bit more time.

Receiver Aaron Dobson: The second-round pick from Marshall has come on strong in recent weeks, elevating to the top spot on the depth chart as the X outside target. He has 31 receptions for 454 yards with four touchdowns, and at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds gives the Patriots a combination of size and speed that they haven't had at the position since Randy Moss.

Safety Duron Harmon: Considered a reach as a third-round pick, the Rutgers product has been a top backup behind starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory, playing in some sub packages. He also filled in on special teams when core player Tavon Wilson was out with a hamstring injury. Teammates have talked about his smarts and his professional approach.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones: Claimed on waivers from the Buccaneers on Sept. 11, he earns our vote for Patriots "rookie of the first half" with five sacks in six games played. At 6-foot-1 and 309 pounds, his quickness has been an asset as an interior rusher, and he's been competitive from a strength/physical standpoint on run plays. Waived by the Texans, who drafted him in the sixth round, he briefly landed in Tampa before the Buccaneers let him go and the Patriots pounced. He has proven to be a steal.

Cornerback Logan Ryan: The third-round pick from Rutgers has made some big plays, such as an interception return for a touchdown against the Jets on Oct. 20, as he's been thrust into a top reserve role in recent weeks with Aqib Talib out. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he has mostly been competitive in coverage and shown a willingness to play the run.

Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins: The undrafted free agent from Cincinnati has slid down the depth chart the past two weeks after serving mostly as the primary X option on the outside (23 catches, 334 yards, 4 TDs) through the first seven games. He made the big game-winning catch against the Saints on Oct. 13, but has since been passed on the depth chart by Dobson.

Defensive tackle Joe Vellano: The undrafted free agent from Maryland is one of the surprises of the season. After opening the season as the No. 3 option behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, he has been thrust into a starting role as both veterans have been lost to season-ending injuries. At 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, he might be viewed as undersized by some, but he wins with technique and scrappiness.

How Patriots filled Matthew Slater void

September, 23, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots were without special-teams captain Matthew Slater in Sunday's 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers. A big part of Slater's value is that he plays on each of the "Big 4" units -- kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage -- so when a player like that is injured it often means multiple players are tapped to fill the void.

Here is a look at how the Patriots compensated:

Duron Harmon on punt coverage. The third-round pick from Rutgers was the choice to serve as one of the team's gunners opposite Marquice Cole. Slater's work as a gunner, where he often faces double teams, is considered exemplary.

Brandon Bolden on kickoff return. Slater is usually back deep on the kickoff return, mostly as the fullback on the unit. Second-year running back Bolden, who played for the first time this season after missing the first two games while recovering from a knee injury, took over that role.

Michael Buchanan on kickoff coverage. In an unusual switch, defensive end Buchanan was the new player on the kickoff coverage unit in place of Slater. At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Buchanan has a different body type than the 6-foot, 210-pound Slater and fills a different role. Buchanan had played on the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener along with Slater, but was bumped off in Week 2 when Harmon dressed for the first time this season.

Jake Bequette on punt return. While not a 1-for-1 switch, and while acknowledging that the Patriots can have different units based on whether they are setting up a return or electing to rush more players, second-year player Bequette was a notable addition to the punt return team. Similar to Buchanan, he has a different body type than Slater and fills a different role. This was the first we've seen of Bequette in this role in 2013.

ANALYSIS: This is a good example of how Slater's absence led to four-pronged juggling by the coaching staff. Bill Belichick has spoken in the past about how his experience as a special-teams coach prepared him well for his role as a head coach in terms of managing the overall 53-man roster, and this is a perfect example to illustrate that point. It also highlights how Slater's skills are unique and no one player can fill the void. ... Players who were on all four units Sunday were LB Jamie Collins, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Chris White and S Tavon Wilson, which reflects their special-teams value and why, among other reasons, they are locks for the 46-man game-day roster on a weekly basis. ... Players on three units were CB Marquice Cole, S Nate Ebner and S Duron Harmon. ... The wedge players on the kickoff return were FB James Develin, TE Michael Hoomanawanui and TE Matthew Mulligan.

Quick-hit thoughts after first quarter

September, 12, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the New York Jets 10-3. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter:

1. Offense starts fast. No Amendola, Gronk and Vereen? No problem, at least to start, as Tom Brady found rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a 39-yard touchdown on the team's opening drive. Dobson was untouched and uncovered on the play, taking his first career catch for a score. The offense started with two backs and two receivers on the field, with fullback James Develin getting some early offensive run.

2. Talib forces Hill fumble. The Jets looked to have a big play on their hands when quarterback Geno Smith hooked up with Stephen Hill up the seam, but New England cornerback Aqib Talib saved his defense by forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Devin McCourty and returned deep into Jets territory. The end result: a chip-shot field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to put the Patriots up 10-0.

3. Jets claw back. The Jets, briefly, cut the lead to 10-6, though a touchdown throw from Smith to Clyde Gates was called an incompletion after a video review. Smith deserves credit for putting together an impressive drive, standing tall in the pocket and delivering a couple of solid throws.

4. Connolly, Gregory each banged up. Both eventually returned to the game, but right guard Dan Connolly and safety Steve Gregory had to receive medical attention during the first quarter. Hard to tell specifically what they were dealing with, but it looked like a left-hand issue for Connolly. Marcus Cannon stepped in for Connolly, while rookie Duron Harmon took Gregory's place.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: offensive tackle Nate Solder (holding; declined) and defensive end Chandler Jones (roughing the passer).

Analysis on Patriots downgrades

September, 7, 2013
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots' downgraded players for Sunday's opener -- tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), offensive lineman Will Svitek (knee) and safeties Nate Ebner (ankle) and Duron Harmon (hamstring):

1. Gronk news expected. The bigger news with Gronkowski would have been if he made the trip; don't think a return is realistic until Sept. 22 at the earliest. The Patriots are light on tight ends for the opener with just Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld dressing. Hoomanawanui (6-4, 260) is more of the inline tight end, while Sudfeld (6-7, 260) is the "move" option.

2. Bolden absence most significant. Of all the moves, Bolden's absence is viewed as the most significant when considering expectations and role (we never thought Gronkowski had a chance to play). Bolden is a core special teams player. When a player like Bolden is lost, it usually takes multiple players to fill his void on special teams. His absence also likely sparked the re-signing of veteran Leon Washington, because Bolden would be the top backup to "passing back" Shane Vereen; that's a role Washington can now handle until Bolden is ready (while also potentially helping on kickoff returns).

3. Dobson's hamstring keeps him home. In a move that was forecasted earlier today, Dobson didn't make the trip. He had been limited all week with a hamstring injury, although even if he was healthy, he might have had a hard time breaking through to the 46-man game-day roster. Based on the way the preseason unfolded, he's currently behind Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins on the receiver depth chart, and with fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce providing more special teams value, Dobson currently looks like the No. 5 option on game day. Some weeks, that might not be enough to dress depending on injuries to others.

4. Svitek's injury elevates Kline. The Patriots had declared Svitek, who projected to the No. 7 spot on the game-day roster as a backup tackle and guard, out on Friday. That likely sparked the move to promote guard Josh Kline from the practice squad Saturday. Kline had been with the team throughout training camp and thus has more knowledge of the system and experience with checks at the line of scrimmage than rookie Chris Barker, who had been claimed on waivers last Sunday.

5. Thin at safety and special teams. With core special teamer Ebner and rookie safety Harmon out, the Patriots have just starters Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, along with Tavon Wilson. That could press five-year veteran Marquice Cole into emergency duty at the position; Cole, a cornerback, played some safety in spring camps. Both Ebner and Harmon factor into the special teams mix, which is another trickle-down effect of their absence. It's likely the team will use multiple players to fill those roles.

Thursday's Pats-Bills practice report

September, 5, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There were no changes on the Patriots' injury report Thursday, with reserve veteran offensive lineman Will Svitek remaining out of practice and receiver Danny Amendola (groin) still limited.