FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty's practice absence on Friday marked his third-straight this week. The starting safety suffered a concussion last weekend after colliding with Ravens tight end Ed Dickson. It appears highly unlikely he'll play Sunday evening against the Bills.
What does that mean for New England? More field time for rookie Duron Harmon.
"The next person's got to do a lot of communicating," cornerback Aqib Talib said Friday. "Duron, he's up. He's been doing a good job, he's been doing it all week in practice, just like with Dev; he's talking just as much as Dev. That's just our role. Our safeties are going to do a lot of talking and our corners are going to let them know what we see."
The 22-year old safety has played in every game but the team's Week 1 tilt, which happened to be the first meeting with Buffalo. Harmon got his first start Week 11 and played a season-high 47 snaps when he stepped in for injured starter Steve Gregory. The coaches had to be pleased with his work as Harmon played all 90 defensive snaps the following week against Denver.
He had played 125 total in the previous eight games.
"I'm getting there. It's a learning curve for me," Harmon admitted. "I just have to keep staying in my book, keep learning. But I'm definitely getting more comfortable out there.
An efficient secondary runs of good communication, as Talib noted. But the thing that's most helped Harmon progress is even more elementary: Reps.
"It helps a lot any time you get any type of experience doing anything. It helps I've been in that type of position, like with Pittsburgh, coming in and filling in for Steve. I was able to see what worked for me then and what wouldn't work for me now. Just [take] it all in and use everything that works and benefits me."
"The game already took its turn and you already know what's happening. That's the main thing, just trying to catch a feel for the game. That's why you have to be on the sideline, tuning into the game, so you can get all the adjustments and see what the offense is doing."
Replacing McCourty will not be easy; the veteran is Pro Football Focus' No. 1 overall ranked safety. Opponents have completed just 18 passes, gained 83 total yards after the catch, and have scored two touchdowns when McCourty was in coverage.
But Harmon has the support of his teammates.
While Talib acknowledged expectations are high, he also noted how every team has contingency plans for tough personnel situations. The Patriots certainly know a thing or two about the "Next Man Up" philosophy; if McCourty sits Sunday, he will be the third defensive captain sidelined this season.
"We just try to have everybody prepared because you never know what's going to happen," Talib shrugged. "I think we just work, we go in that meeting room and work together to make sure everybody's on the same page so we're ready for whatever happens."