To define attrition in the National Football League, one has only to look at the New England Patriots.

Injury after debilitating injury has taxed the depth chart in Foxborough - and while losing names like Wilfork, Kelly, Mayo and Talib would cause nearly every other team in the league to fold like a cocktail napkin, the coach who once resigned as the "HC of the NYJ" via said napkin has held his team together with forward thinking...

Harmon (right) will get his first start next Monday night.

...dealing with free agency and this past April's draft within the mindset of stocking his team with talented depth, mostly with projects that could step in for starters during time of dire emergency and hold the fort until they healed.

But no one could have foreseen that defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly would both land on the skids, replaced by an undrafted rookie free agent and a third day selection who is on his third team in less than three months, respectively.

"Regular Joe" Vellano and Chris "not Chandler" Jones have not only filled in for the starting big uglies, but have thrived in their opportunities - and while rookie Logan Ryan has more than held his own in Talib's stead and coach Bill Belichick experiments with the weak side linebacker position vacated by Mayo's torn pectoral muscle, Patriots' nation is now bracing itself for life without starting strong safety Steve Gregory.

But they needn't worry, because Belichick has a sub for that, too - and he could very well turn out to be better than the incumbent.

Rookie Duron Harmon is what an evil genius might concoct in his basement when searching for an all purpose safety - a combination of great size - 6' 1" and 210 pounds - and good speed at 4.48 in the 40, the Rutgers University product is equally adept in run support up in the box or patrolling center field - thus is also prototypical of what coaches look for when seeking a nickle safety, someone who can stay with tight ends and running backs in the pattern while being disciplined enough to run containment on the second level.

Harmon did that in college, he did that in the preseason where zone schemes were employed liberally, and he's done that in his limited snaps in the regular season - and, ideally, that's the way Belichick would prefer it be with Harmon and with all of this class of rookies, to get them situational snaps and to bring them along at a pace that speaks thorough integration...

...but the injuries have forced his hand - and that's ok too, because the kids have responded and will be tested-tough by the time January rolls around.

The safety positions are the thinnest on the team, with only Devin McCourty, Gregory and Harmon projected to have an impact on defense - Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner safeties in name only as both are core special teamers - and Harmon has flashed well enough in practice, meetings and in situational snaps that Belichick hasn't felt compelled to pull out his rolodex and flip to the "safeties" tab.

And for a man who coached a Patriots' defense to a Super Bowl appearance in 2011 with the likes of Sergio Brown and Sterling Moore splitting time next to cornerback-turned emergency free safety in McCourty, for him to be that comfortable and to have that much confidence in Harmon's potential speaks volumes.

Besides, rookies performing well under such intense scrutiny has become so commonplace in Foxborough that New England fans can probably just go ahead and expect Harmon to shine...

Photo credit: New England Patriots via David Silverman

Michael Hamm 11/12/2013 01:22:00 AM Edit

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