Steady safety Duron Harmon finding a fit with Falcons family

Falcons safety Duron Harmon (right) gets in a little extra work with rookie Richie Grant at the close of another training camp session at Flowery Branch.   “Curtis Compton /”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons safety Duron Harmon (right) gets in a little extra work with rookie Richie Grant at the close of another training camp session at Flowery Branch. “Curtis Compton /”

FLOWERY BRANCH - When the Falcons brought Duron Harmon on board to fill in the back end of their defense, they dipped into their gnarliest nightmare for help. You see, for the bulk of an eight-year career he was a New England Patriot. Yes, one of those, a member of the same team that inscribed “Greatest Comeback Ever” on its Super Bowl LI ring.

A ring that should have belonged to the Falcons if not for a squandered 28-3 lead. One man’s devastating collapse is another man’s epic comeback.

But you want to know just how smooth this guy is, and the kind of leadership savvy he’s brought South?

Listen to how a real veteran can twist the Feb. 5, 2017 experience and make it almost sound like a 2021 public service announcement for the new-look Falcons. And never once did Harmon dislocate anything in the process:

“I don’t talk about that too much (here),” Harmon began, with a smile.

“I talked to Debo (linebacker Deion Jones) about it last week. Just saying how that game just switched at one point, how (the Falcons) had all the momentum, and it just switched. We talked about how one of the mottos we have around here is finish everything. I told him at that place no matter the lead, no matter how much we were down, no matter how much we were up, we played the game one way.

“That’s the mindset that coach (Arthur) Smith is bringing here. I’m grateful to be around a coach like that.”

Masterful, taking a perfect opportunity to gloat and turning it into an encouraging message.

With the departures of Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee,the Falcons need someone at safety with that kind of nimbleness.

They signed Harmon and five-year veteran Erik Harris – “One of the smartest players I’ve ever been around,” Harmon said – to lend leadership and stability to a remade secondary. One that, by the way, Pro Football Focus just ranked 32nd in a 32-team league.

Harmon doesn’t blink at the slight. “They’re only going off what they’ve seen, and what they saw last year is what they saw last year. We can’t focus on that. ... It is a new scheme. There are going to be some learning curves, but the faster we grow as a group, the faster we get closer together, the faster we’re all on one page, the better we’ll be. If everything works out, I’m pretty sure we won’t be dead last.”

Harmon comes at his leadership skills from a couple of different perspectives – playing and personal.

Raising four sons with his wife, Christine, he first recognizes the importance of guiding that particular position group at home. “You can’t lead a football team and players around you if you can’t lead your family because the family is the most important thing.”

The crew has followed him from New England – which drafted him in the third round out of Rutgers in 2013. To Detroit, after being traded there last season for a draft pick. To the Falcons, where, at age 30, he signed a one-year deal.

All the Harmons are part of every transaction, the family relocating with him at each stop. As he said, “It’s not just my journey, it’s my family’s journey.”

Life with the Pats was sweet. Draft watchers said New England was reaching when they took him in the third round. Not invited to the NFL combine, he was projected to go lower. But Harmon quickly proved his value, becoming an important piece of the defensive rotation (his gig with the Lions last season was the first in which he was an every-game starter).

With the Pats, Harmon developed a reputation for late-game interceptions. Ten of his 19 regular-season picks, and three of four in the postseason, have come in the fourth quarter (six of those in the last two minutes). Because of that trait, they attached a snazzy nickname to him around Foxboro: The Closer.

Harmon will shrug and say those numbers were a product of playing for a team that possessed a lot of leads and forced opponents into a lot of desperate passing at the end. Still, someone had to be in position to accept such gifts.

In a backup role, he went to four Super Bowls with New England, winning three. His oldest son Christopher, now 10 and newly signed up to play tackle football, came to believe the Super Bowl was an annual family tradition, as regular as Christmas. He knows better now.

“You know what they say, the older you get the wiser you get. He understands getting to that stage is extremely hard,” Harmon said.

Regular late leads and a Super Bowl run are not luxuries Harmon is likely to experience with the Falcons in this remodeling season.

And no one will be particularly dazzled by Harmon’s championship background. Least of all Harmon himself. A glimpse into modesty here: When Todd Gurley came to the Falcons wearing No. 21, Deion Sanders reportedly called the running back about maybe not wearing his old number with his old team. That’s Harmon’s number now. But no call to date. “I don’t think I’m cool enough to get a call from Deion,” Harmon said.

With family or with football, Harmon looks to bring a brand of leadership that is constant and fundamental. The mentoring role seems to come naturally.

“It’s a part of life,” he said. “I’m happy where I’m at. I’m happy to be the old guy in the room. I’m appreciating it more because there was an old guy in the room to help me to get me to where I am right now.

“It’s a blessing at the end of the day because a lot of people don’t get to Year 9 and to play for an organization like this. It’s an awe moment, thinking about where I started and where I am now. I have a real appreciation for where I’m at.”