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Duron Harmon aiming for biggest role of his career with Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — After seven years in New England, including three Super Bowl championships, safety Duron Harmon is embracing the next challenge in his career.

A reserve, spot starter and third man in the safety rotation for the Patriots, Harmon has his sights set on a bigger role with the Lions after being traded to the organization earlier this week. 

Lions head coach Matt Patricia and new player Duron Harmon.

"I've been in a very unique situation at the Patriots — carved out a great role being a third safety behind two of the best safeties in the league, Devin (McCourty) and Patrick Chung," Harmon said during a conference call with local reporters on Friday. "Those guys were great mentors for me, great examples of how to play the game, but eventually I wanted to go into a spot where I can play 90-95 percent of the plays. And that's (how) I'm looking to expand my role."

It wouldn't be an unreasonable jump for Harmon after playing at least 500 defensive snaps each of the past five seasons and more than 600 four of those five. In Detroit, he'll compete for playing time with Tracy Walker and Will Harris, a pair of recent third-round picks. 

"I know they already have two talented, young players in the room and I'm just trying to come there to help in any way that I can," Harmon said. "I don't know what my specific role will be, but I know whatever I get will be earned."

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Harmon's best trait is his ability to cover, describing himself as "rangy." He's intercepted 17 passes during his career, including 10 over the past three seasons. Since 2015, he's picked off eight throws in the fourth quarter of games, the most in the NFL during that stretch. That earned him the nickname "The Closer" from New England media, a moniker he's embraced. 

"Somebody starts calling you that, and then another person starts calling you that and then the next thing you know it’s on the big screen," Harmon said. "Bill (Belichick) is calling me that, you know, just the fans. Everybody is calling me that. It was cool because it let me know that I was appreciated in my time in New England and they loved what I did, they loved my role and they loved how I played.

"I’m just looking to continue to spread that love all the way up to Detroit," Harmon said. "I want Detroit fans to love the way I play, the effort I play with, the leadership that I give, the passion that I play with. I want them to be able to feel that when I take the field."

Harmon, 29, figures to naturally slide into a mentorship role with Detroit, given the relative youth of the team's other safeties. Coincidentally, the seven-year veteran's mentor from his rookie year in New England, Steve Gregory, will serve as his position coach this season.

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Gregory set the tone for the type of NFL player Harmon wanted to be. 

"Gregory was like the one who really took me under his wing when I first got there as a young pup," Harmon said. "He taught me how to watch film, taught me how to break down the days with watching film, what to watch for. 

"I think he was 190 pounds and we had him playing strong safety and he was just tough.," Harmon continued. "I remember guys coming in there, 230 pounds trying to crack him and he's literally lighting cats up, going in there making a play and getting up. I remember sitting behind him realizing that's how I want to play. I want to be tough like that. I want to be able to be physical. I want to be, at 200 pounds, play in the middle of the field and also come down there and hold my own when I'm needed to go in the box."

Harmon went on to say Gregory was destined for coaching with how well he explained defense, making the concepts simple to understand as a young player. 

"I'm excited to work back with him because he was the smartest, he was probably the smartest safety I played with, for sure."

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Like everyone else dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Harmon is mostly staying hunkered down at home, doing Tom Brady's TB12 workouts and riding the Peloton to stay in shape until the smoke clears and life returns back to normal. 

The NFL has already delayed its offseason program indefinitely, but Harmon doesn't anticipate any issue getting up to speed in a defense he's familiar with, surrounded by several former teammates, including Trey Flowers, Jamie Collins and Justin Coleman. 

"Obviously there are going to be some changes between probably the defense in New England to where it is in Detroit, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be a lot of stuff that I'm very, very familiar with," Harmon said. "When you've got guys that can not only explain to you, but been in the position, to really go over with you and let you know the situations I've been in, to know why we play this defense that way, I think that's always kind of the best teacher, rather than coach just saying, 'Hey, this is how we want to play.' When you got guys who have done it, can show you it, how you want to play it, I think that's always good."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers