FOXBOROUGH — The interaction between ex-Rutgers player and former Scarlet Knights coach did not last very long.
At the start of Tuesday’s joint practice with the Buccaneers, Patriots rookie safety Duron Harmon chatted with Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. Harmon had played for Schiano at Rutgers for three seasons.
“Just said hello,” Harmon said. “He said I was doing a good job. ‘Keep it up.’ Just very brief, because at the end of the day, my mind is focused on getting better each and every day.”
Those three years (Schiano was in Tampa Bay for Harmon’s senior season) may be a reason why the rookie is catching his professional boss’s attention.
Harmon, picked 91st overall in the 2013 draft, is pushing for a job in the Patriots’ defensive backfield. Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, and Adrian Wilson make up the first tier of safety personnel. McCourty could also see time at cornerback, as he did in Tuesday’s practice because of injuries to Ras-I Dowling and Alfonzo Dennard.
But the 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound Harmon could be edging past second-year pro Tavon Wilson.
“Duron has had a good camp,” said coach Bill Belichick. “He’s done well. He missed some time in the spring. But he’s smart. He’s a very instinctive player, picks things up pretty quickly.
“I’m sure he’s worked with Devin a lot back there with communication and adjustments as well as Steve, Adrian, and the rest of them. He’s done well.”
Harmon’s smarts have shown up in his camp performance. He has been sharp with his assignments and execution.
“I’m trying. It’s coming. It’s coming,” Harmon said of his playbook study. “It’s more comfortable. But at the end of the day, I know that playbook is big. I still have a lot more to learn.
“I have to take that approach each and every day. I can’t ever get comfortable and think I’ve got the playbook. That’s going to be the day when it bites me in the butt.”
As an ex-Scarlet Knight, Harmon is among familiar faces this week. Schiano is his former coach. McCourty was a senior at Rutgers when Harmon was a freshman. Classmate Logan Ryan is auditioning for work as a defensive back.
After practice, Harmon, Ryan, and Buccaneers linebacker Ka’lial Glaud huddled for several minutes to catch up. The three were Rutgers seniors last year.
“Logan has played both the inside and outside for us, as well as in the kicking game, as has Harmon,” Belichick said. “I know those guys spend a lot of time going over things together and all that.
“They’ve both done well. Smart kids that pick things up quickly. They look like they have some position flexibility.”
Between the two teams, there are 18 former Rutgers players practicing this week. Both clubs have nine ex-Scarlet Knights.
The Rutgers reunion may be a product of the relationship between Belichick and Schiano. Belichick was a regular visitor when Schiano was at Rutgers. Steve Belichick, the coach’s son, played for Schiano in 2011.
“I’m happy those guys are getting an opportunity to play for somebody who’s a good person and a great football coach,” Schiano said. “That’s what I want for the kids we recruited and brought there. I just want them to be in a program where they can continue with the core values that we had there.”
As a junior, during Schiano’s final season at Rutgers, Harmon broke out as a pro prospect. He started all 13 games. The safety recorded 39 tackles, picked off five passes (second-most in the Big East), and made the All-Big East first team.
“One thing he really put in my brain is mental toughness,” Harmon said of his college coach. “I think that’s something I really took away from his program. It’s something I’ve carried deep in my heart just growing up.”
Harmon continued to develop as a senior. In 13 games, he had 50 tackles and seven pass breakups.
A year later, Harmon is competing against the professionals he once watched. Last week, during joint practices with Philadelphia, Harmon spent time defending DeSean Jackson. On Tuesday, Harmon took his first reps against Tampa receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
“Any time you get to go against guys of that stature, it’s very, very exciting,” Harmon said. “You get to measure yourself and get to see how you react in situations where they’re getting the ball.”
Camp officially concludes Thursday. The Patriots will play their second preseason game Friday against Tampa Bay. After Friday, Harmon will have two more preseason games in which to show his bosses he belongs in the secondary.
“I’m getting there,” Harmon said. “I’ll just leave it at that. I’m getting there. I’m nowhere near close to where I want to be with the comfort level. But I’m getting there. I’m making progress.”