Safety Harmon enjoys time with top vets

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At one point during the Patriots' first practice of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, four members of the secondary broke off to work on their own – cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon.

The snapshot provided a glimpse of what could be ahead for Harmon: A potential starting role in his second NFL season.

How does he approach such a situation in practice?

“It's really just me listening,” he said with a smile afterward. “You have guys that are All-Pros, and what can I really say? I'm in my second year. These guys have played a lot of great football at a high level. So it's really a great chance for me to sit back and soak up a lot of that wisdom from those three guys.”

That Harmon was in such a position shouldn't come as a surprise. He was the third player on the depth chart last season, playing 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps (427), and now he has a chance to seize the No. 2 spot after the club released Steve Gregory in late February.

Harmon, a 2013 third-round draft choice from Rutgers, knows it's a great opportunity but he's not changing a thing in preparations.

“I'm approaching it just like last year -- preparing like being a starter because you never know your opportunity and when it will come. It came last year -- I started three games last year -- and I think because I prepared like a starter I was prepared to play in the games and do well,” he said after a year in which coaches credited him with 30 tackles and he added two interceptions.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Harmon has focused on gaining strength and more flexibility this offseason, while also becoming a smarter football player. His smarts were considered a strength entering the NFL, but he's set the bar high by studying tape of NFL safeties Earl Thomas (Seahawks), Dashon Goldson (Buccaneers), Antoine Bethea (49ers) and Donte Whitner (Browns), in addition to McCourty, his teammate.

Harmon said the focus was on more strong safeties, because “that's most likely what I'd be asked to do if I earn a starting spot.”