The Patriots are entering the 2014 season with the expectation that Devin McCourty will be the starting free safety. The main question is which player will be starting next to him.
The anticipated frontrunner is Duron Harmon, a second year player out of Rutgers who played admirably in over a third of the defensive snaps last season. Harmon is rangy and is a smart player; his upside might be limited, but he's a more-than-solid contributor who won't hurt the defense.
However, don't give him the role just yet. It seems as if the Patriots have been giving everyone in camp a fair shot to start and it's very possible that the team has a few wrinkles in mind.
It turns out that safeties Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson have been rotating in-and-out with the first team defense thus far in camp, which would hopefully imply a usage of "Cover One" defense, where there's a single deep safety (McCourty) and the other safety is closer in the box.
While Harmon is better suited for the "Cover Two" (two deep safeties) due to his range and back-stop ability, we've seen that Wilson and Chung get exposed when they're asked to play the deep half of the field. By allowing McCourty and his 4.3 speed to be the single deep safety, it's possible that Chung and Wilson could see playing time closer in the box, where they can focus on sniffing out the ballcarrier instead of protecting portions of the field.
This isn't to say that Harmon won't be a starting safety; it more likely means that the team will field its safeties on a situational basis. Run-heavy teams will likely see either Chung or Wilson on the field, while passing teams will see Harmon.
We'll continue to monitor this as camp progresses.