NFL Nation: Duron Harmon

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

Harmon
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
Apr 11
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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.”

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
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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.

Progress report: Rookies chip in

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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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):

Allen
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.

Dobson
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.

Ryan
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.

Leftover thoughts from Pats' loss

August, 23, 2013
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DETROIT -- Some leftover thoughts and observations from the Patriots' 40-9 loss to the Lions:

1. It seemed like incumbent punter Zoltan Mesko had created some separation on rookie Ryan Allen leading into the game, and that was reinforced after the game as well. Mesko punted four times, while Allen punted just once (it was a 53-yarder, but wasn't hit particularly well and took a favorable bounce). Mesko also held on kicker Stephen Gostkowski's lone field-goal attempt. Hard to imagine Mesko losing the job at this point. His final stats: 4 punts, 195 yards, 48.8 avg., 43.0 net and one inside the 20.

2. Fullback James Develin's inclusion on the first-unit kickoff return could bode well for his chances to make the roster. Develin lined up in the wedge position opposite defensive end Marcus Benard (he was on 3 special teams units). Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had been used there in the first two preseason games, which could signal that he's on shaky ground to stick. As a fullback, Develin played nine snaps with the first-unit offense. One downer to his night: Not being able to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-inches carry late in the second quarter.

3. Working on the dime package (six defensive backs) seemed to be a top priority for the Patriots, and we saw safety Adrian Wilson move down to a linebacker-type role in that grouping. He was involved in Reggie Bush's 67-yard catch-and-run, taking a bad angle that helped spring Bush free, and didn't seem to be entirely comfortable reading and reacting to what was unfolding in front of him. The Patriots started Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety, which seems to be viewed as their best coverage-type players at the position. Wilson came on in the second half.

4. Tough night for the offensive line, as the Lions -- powered by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at tackle -- won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Patriots had 18 carries for 32 yards at the half and had been turned one-dimensional on offense, which is never the way they want to play. Then add in two penalties (Logan Mankins false start, Sebastian Vollmer holding) and two sacks of Tom Brady and it just wasn't their night.

5. Coaches often like to see how a player responds to adversity and while it's easy to look at receiver Kenbrell Thompkins' stat line (8 catches for 116 yards) and conclude he was a top performer, that overlooks one aspect of his night. Thompkins dropped what would have been first-down reception that ended the team's second drive. His ability to move on to the next play was evident as he proceeded to make some big plays for the team the rest of the way.

6. Rookie safety Duron Harmon served as the personal protector on the punt team. As the coaching staff considers which 46 players to dress on game day, special teams can be a big factor for a reserve safety like Harmon. He was also part of the top kickoff coverage unit and on the punt return unit.

AFC East third-round recap

April, 26, 2013
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It was a busy third round for the AFC East. Let’s provide a brief recap of all the events.
  • The Miami Dolphins drafted Utah State cornerback Will Davis with the No. 93 overall pick. Miami traded out of the third round and then got back in to take Davis, which is an unusual move. The Dolphins also drafted Tennessee guard Dallas Thomas at No. 77 overall. Thomas will add to the depth in the interior offensive line.
  • The New York Jets also added to their offensive line depth by taking Kent State guard Brian Winters. The Jets lost starting guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson in free agency.
  • The Buffalo Bills continued their run of receivers with Marquise Goodwin of Texas. Goodwin joins second-round pick Robert Woods of USC to add youth and competition to Buffalo’s receiving corps. The Bills are looking for a potential starter to pair with 1,000-yard receiver Steve Johnson.
  • The New England Patriots had a soft spot with Rutgers players in the third round. The reigning AFC East champs drafted Scarlet Knights cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. These were not well-known players, but New England is known to go off the conventional path to find talent. Last year the Patriots were criticized for drafting safety Tavon Wilson in the second round and he recorded four interceptions in his rookie year.

It was another busy day in the AFC East. But the major story of Day 2 in the division is New York taking former West Virgina quarterback Geno Smith. Here is my column on the move.

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