<
>

Duron Harmon's improbable rise from 'nobody' draft pick to Patriots captain

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Go back to review any 2013 NFL draft preview and safety Duron Harmon was nowhere to be found; if anything, he was considered a late-round or free-agent-level prospect. So when the Patriots selected him in the third round, the word most commonly associated with the pick was "reach."

Fast-forward five years and Harmon is the last player remaining with the Patriots from the '13 draft class. He's also a team captain.

He first learned of the captaincy early last week in a matter-of-fact delivery from head coach Bill Belichick at a team meeting.

"After practice, he said, 'We have captains meeting tomorrow, and the two new guys that you added are David Andrews and Duron Harmon.' I was just sitting there in a little disbelief," Harmon said. "What my role is on the team, you kind of never know. That means a lot to me.

"That [draft] class, it's crazy. I just remember being the nobody of the class, and for it to just be me now, it's humbling. But I still have a long way to go."

Harmon is the team's third safety, behind Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. But because the Patriots play their big-nickel package (three safeties) as much as any team in the NFL, Harmon could almost be viewed as a starter. In Thursday's season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, for example, Harmon played 63 of 69 defensive snaps.

Patriots fans probably know him best as the closer, a defender who seems to have a knack for coming up with interceptions to help end games. Perhaps no better example of that came in the AFC divisional-round win over the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 10, 2015, when he intercepted Joe Flacco in the end zone with 1:39 remaining to preserve a 35-31 victory.

An unrestricted free agent this past offseason, the Patriots re-signed him to a four-year contract with a maximum value of $20 million.

Now Harmon, whose rallying cry at halftime of Super Bowl LI was reflective of the leadership and top-end intangibles he brings to the team, adds "captain" to the résumé.

"You look at where I came from, and seeing guys like [Jerod] Mayo, Vince [Wilfork], Dev, Logan Mankins, Rob Ninkovich, Tom Brady and all those guys being honored as captains," he said, "and seeing what they mean to the team ...

"This is a great organization, the best in sports. For not only my peers but my coaches to think I deserve that, it lets me know I'm doing the right thing and I have to continue to do the right thing. And continue to get better -- as a player and leader."

2. McCourty gave everyone a glimpse inside his soul in Thursday's opener when he wrote "Happy Birthday Dad" on his cleats. It was subtle but also easy for anyone watching closely enough to see, particularly on one early-second-quarter instant replay during NBC's broadcast when McCourty tackled Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. The 30-year-old McCourty was 3 when his father, Calvin, died of a heart attack. Sept. 10 is the anniversary of Calvin's death, and writing a birthday message on his cleats was a way to honor his memory. Twin brother Jason McCourty, set to make his debut with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, has been planning to do the same thing.

3a. When the Patriots traded No. 3 quarterback Jacoby Brissett on Sept. 2, which left the team with just Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo as quarterbacks on the roster, some assumed they would quickly add a third layer of depth on the practice squad. They haven't, which seems a bit risky to go without a layer of insurance at the game's most important position, but to my surprise they aren't alone. The Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Jaguars, Lions and Buccaneers are other teams that have just two quarterbacks on their active roster, with no third layer of depth on their practice squad.

3b. Did You Know?: It's an even split across the NFL, as 16 teams kept three quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster, while 16 kept just two.

4. A few leftover thoughts from the Patriots' season-opening loss to the Chiefs:

  • Just as things are never as good as they seem when the Patriots win, the reverse is the case with this game. As disappointing as it was for the team, things aren't as bad as they seem for the Patriots.

  • The quick fix to New England's problems is obvious: Stop giving up big-scoring plays (75, 78 yards) and figure out a way to gain a yard on fourth-and-1 (stopped twice). If the Patriots can't fix those, they won't be going far this season. To get where they want to go, it starts with the basics.

  • As poorly as the defense played at times, the unit still forced three punts in the third quarter, when the lead changed hands three times. There are some positive things from which to build (for example, pressure from Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr.).

  • The back-to-back penalties for running into the kicker in the third quarter (Brandon Bolden, then Cassius Marsh) ultimately cost the team 25 yards in field position, which is a quarter of the entire field. That is huge, and maybe it's the difference between the Patriots' leading 31-21 at the end of the period instead of settling for a field goal to go up 27-21.

  • The Patriots coaching staff had to know it was flirting with injury trouble by playing Danny Amendola on 32 offensive snaps through the first three quarters and having him back to field seven punts before he departed with a possible concussion. While the team was limited personnel-wise at receiver, it had a full stable of running backs who could have been utilized more to lighten Amendola's workload.

5. From the TV department: Jim Nantz (play-by-play) and Tony Romo (analysis) are scheduled to call the Patriots' road game against the New Orleans Saints next Sunday on CBS, which brings arguably the biggest broadcasting story of the year (Romo hired as CBS' No. 1 analyst) into the spotlight in New England. I'm interested to hear Romo's analysis.

6a. Retired Patriots defensive end Ninkovich made the media rounds Saturday as part of promotional work with Panini America, and he said on SiriusXM NFL Radio that the team hasn't reached out to him about possibly coming out of retirement. As the 33-year-old said recently on Comcast SportsNet New England, he'd consider it if asked, but he's not pushing for it. "Right now, I'm not going to give a call and reach out to them. If they wanted to contact, I wouldn't not take the call," he said.

6b. Ninkovich, to SiriusXM, on what went wrong with Kony Ealy in New England: "There are system fits, and I think maybe he just wasn't a good system fit. For me personally, if you threw me on Carolina's roster, I guarantee I wouldn't make the team because I'm not just going to run up the field and have those blinders on, and run 10 yards past the quarterback like some teams let their D-ends do. I think there's a big difference in scheme, I think there's a big difference in coaching points in that some places, they don't care. With Bill, he cares. As far as system fit, he didn't fit the system."

7. For those who believe coming off a bye week is an advantage, the Patriots caught a break of sorts with the Dolphins' season opener against the Buccaneers moved to Week 11 because of Hurricane Irma. The Dolphins were supposed to be off that week before a trip to New England in Week 12. Now they’ll be visiting the Patriots after having played 10 consecutive games, one of which is in London (Week 4 vs. Saints).

8. In his pregame interview on WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub, Belichick was asked if there was one player he had released over the years of whom he might have said, "I wish I didn't let him go." Belichick answered by saying that the player who went on to have the best career is kicker Robbie Gould. "We tried to get him back, but you know how it is hard with that position," Belichick told Scott Zolak in the interview. "We had a great kicker in Adam [Vinatieri], and then we drafted Steve [Gostkowski] the next year. So I've been very fortunate to have two great kickers here. But Robbie was another one, and I knew he was a good player when we released him [in 2005]. It was hard to carry two kickers."

9. On Peter King's “The MMQB” season-opening podcast -- which had forecast prior to the opener the problems Hill could give the Patriots, as well as issues with the New England front seven on defense -- King noted how the Patriots were known for paying practice-squad players more than the minimum as an incentive for them to stick with the club. That has continued this season, with defensive end Geneo Grissom given a base salary of $615,000, which is what he would have received if on the active roster. Consider that the minimum salary for practice-squad players, and what most earn across the NFL, is $122,400. The Patriots are also paying practice-squad players Willie Beavers ($255,000), Angelo Blackson ($255,000), D.J. Foster ($255,000) and Demarcus Ayers ($170,000) at an increased rate.

10. When the Patriots placed wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell on injured reserve Thursday, it was the fifth player to land on IR this year after having practiced in training camp. In 2016, the Patriots placed four players on IR all season.