FOXBOROUGH — Duron Harmon is confident he has the physical skill and ability to succeed on the football field.
The Patriots second-year safety from Rutgers proved that as a rookie when he emerged as a viable backup while veteran Steve Gregory was out with a broken thumb last season.
Two weeks after Gregory was injured, Harmon delivered a standout performance in a 34-31 overtime victory against the Broncos, playing all 90 snaps and recording 11 tackles.
With a season under his belt, Harmon can feel a different kind of confidence building every time he takes his position in the secondary.
He’s comfortable being a vocal leader, a role he said he often deferred to veteran Devin McCourty last season while he learned the ropes.
“I feel more comfortable out there,” Harmon said after Wednesday’s training camp session. “I’m able to relax and let my natural ability take over without thinking.
“I would say the great thing about being back there with Devin is he’s so smart, a lot of the decisions fall on him. But when I do have to make a decision, I feel more comfortable and confident in making that decision. Everything just comes with repetition and this last year I’ve been able to get repetitions in camp last year, throughout the whole season, and then these past OTAs — they’ve really helped me a lot.”
It’s been evident in camp the strong safety position is an open competition. While Harmon has looked strong to this point, he’s also competing with Patrick Chung, who played 30 games in four seasons with the Patriots, and re-signed with New England after playing in Philadelphia last season.
Third-year players Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have also taken reps at the open safety position, and it will be interesting to see how the position battle plays out as the regular season approaches.
McCourty, who played with Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan at Rutgers, said he could notice Harmon embracing a more vocal role in the secondary.
“It’s his confidence more than anything,” McCourty said. “Last year, he was a guy out there that knew what he was doing, but wasn’t always sure, so he leaned on either myself, or Steve [Gregory] back there.
“This year, he’s more vocal, he believes in himself and believes in the work he has put in. He’s picking up some more of the advanced things, like going against Tom [Brady] and seeing some of the things other quarterbacks can’t do, and he starts to anticipate those things and become a better player.”
Coach Bill Belichick said that when he is looking for a vocal leader and communicator on the defense, it’s important for that player to be decisive and confident.
“Even doing the wrong thing can be OK as long as we’re all wrong together,” Belichick said. “If we’re all wrong together, we can still be right. The problem is when half of us are doing one thing and half of us are doing something else, then it’s almost impossible for that to ever work well.
“Duron is a sharp kid and he works very hard. He’s a good football player. He’s got good instincts. He was obviously well coached in college. He has a good fundamental background and a good communication background. The defenses that they played in college, that he and Logan [Ryan] and Steve [Beauharnais] and all the rest of them, there was quite a bit of communication involved, there was quite a bit of recognition involved. It’s a different system, it’s different words but the concepts and the principles are there and they’re familiar with those type of things. They’re used to making calls and they can make them decisively.”
Although Harmon acknowledged the improvements he’s made on the mental side of the game, he also made sure to improve himself physically during the offseason. The 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound defensive back incorporated hot yoga to improve his flexibility, and he said he can feel the difference.
“It’s carried over to my games as well,” Harmon said. “Flexibility just helps being stronger, and opens up your stride-lengths, so you’re faster.”
Harmon was pleased with the way he performed in the second half of his first season and is proud of his breakout game against the Broncos.
“Last year was last year,” Harmon said. “Some people say I had a strong second half of the season, but I’m looking forward to being better than the player I was last year, and every day I’m working my butt off to show I’m a better player.”Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at@gulizia_a.