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The Patriots need the Student Duron Harmon to be the Master Devin McCourty

The Patriots will be without their star defensive back, but they'll have a great player waiting in the wings.

New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty is expected to miss a few weeks with a high ankle sprain. In any other season, an injury to the Patriots safety would have derailed the defense, but this year seems different.

For the first time in probably the entire Bill Belichick era, the Patriots have fantastic depth at safety.

This isn't 2011, where the Patriots rotated 13 different players at the safety position and quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the offense brought the defense kicking and screaming to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots have a quality player in Duron Harmon that is ready to step up in McCourty's place.

"Duron has been pretty steady as far as his I'd say development as a player," head coach Bill Belichick said about the Patriots 2013 3rd round pick. "He was a pretty smart guy coming in, played in a good program obviously, was able to contribute for us as a rookie, but works really hard in the offseason, works hard in-season, is always doing things to get better in the training room in terms of his physical training, his preparation, his on the field communication, practice habits."

Harmon ranks as one of the top safeties in the league, albeit in limited time, as his film work allows him to cover the field and deter passes in his direction. Harmon has played in 51.6% of the defensive snaps this season, which ranks 9th for the unit, behind the four starting defensive backs (Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung), the two starting linebackers (Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower), and the two defensive ends (Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich).

The Patriots have used Harmon as the single high safety, in the exact same role as McCourty, in order to free up Devin to support the weak depth at the cornerback position. It also doesn't hurt that Harmon has been learning behind McCourty since the two were at Rutgers.

"Obviously working with Devin [McCourty] is a great benefit for him because I don't think anybody plays the position better than Devin does," Belichick said on the relationship between Harmon and McCourty. "A lot of times they're playing it together or in a complementary position so that's all been good for him, but Duron has gotten better, gets better every week, gets better every year, works really hard, [and is] very dedicated."

Maybe Harmon can't offer the same level of athleticism as McCourty, but the coaching staff trusts that Harmon will be able to play at a high level to mitigate the loss of McCourty for the rest of the regular season.

"He's a great teammate," Belichick said. "Great guy to have on the team in whatever role it is, works to help the offense get better in terms of being on the scout team and things like that. He does everything you ask him to do and does the best he can."

The Patriots will watch out for his best on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.