Quick hits from Patriots locker room

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick hits from the Patriots' locker room on Tuesday:

Rookie Harmon primed for expanded role: With veteran safety Steve Gregory missing practice with a broken right thumb, it thrusts rookie Duron Harmon into a possible starting role. That explains why Harmon, the surprising third-round pick from Rutgers, was drawing one of the largest media crowds of the day. Harmon called Gregory the smartest player he’s ever played with, and explained that he tries to take a similar approach with his own game. He was hard on himself for missing an open-field tackle on third-and-30 against the Steelers, but expressed confidence. “Put me in that situation again and I think I’ll be able to make it,” he said, noting he overran the play and would slow down in the future. Harmon said his overall approach won’t change if he starts. “Coach Flores has done a great job with me, telling me ‘you’re always one play away’ and he’s always quizzing me and asking me questions. I think it really paid off last week,” he said.

Newcomer Williams settles in: Receiver LaQuan Williams, who signed a two-year deal with the team last Tuesday, said the biggest way he can help is on special teams. That’s the same type of role he played for the Ravens in 2011 and 2012. “Special teams is really a fight … it’s a one-on-one battle and it comes down to will,” he said. Williams explained that he got caught in a numbers game with the Ravens in 2013 training camp and also injured his hamstring, which wasn’t healed until about the fifth week of the season. That's when he started working out for teams, including the Patriots.

Williams talks Reed release: Williams, who played with Ed Reed in Baltimore the last two seasons, expressed surprise at news that the Texans were releasing him. “Great guy, man. A wonderful player as well,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that stands out in the locker room, helps out in the locker room, and keeps the team together.”

Mankins on Panthers’ d-line and four-man rush: Veteran left guard Logan Mankins said it’s a bit unusual to see a team rotate four solid defensive tackles like the Panthers do with Dwan Edwards, Colin Cole and rookie Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. “It’s not very often you play a team with four good tackles; they have a lot of depth up front and a lot of good players. To rotate like that, they stay pretty fresh and there is not a huge drop-off when they do rotate,” he said, later adding that between the tackles collapsing the pocket and ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy bringing heat “it seems like a defensive meeting at the quarterback.”