FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Patriots safety/captain Duron Harmon transitioned from the upbeat experience of reading to 250 elementary school students on Friday to a more reflective place shortly thereafter. One month removed from Super Bowl LII, he acknowledged that turning the page has been an ongoing, painful process.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about that game. I'm pretty sure everybody on our team feels the same way," Harmon said. "The only thing you can do is just learn from it -- what put us in position to lose that game and how to never do that again."
What has Harmon, who played 65 of 75 defensive snaps on a night the Eagles racked up 374 passing yards, learned most?
"The main thing I've taken from that game is missed opportunities. Not getting off the field on third down (Eagles were 10 of 16). Not marrying up good pressure with good pass coverage. We had opportunities to get off the field, to make plays and tackles, and we didn't do it," he said. "You have to realize that the team that makes fewer mistakes is going to win, and they made a little bit less mistakes than us that allowed them to get the win."
With the 2018 league year officially starting March 14 (teams can begin negotiating with agents for players on other teams March 12), Harmon was asked his thoughts on a Patriots team that is guaranteed to look significantly different.
"I always feel great about my team," he said. "Coach Belichick does a great job of putting a good team together each and every year, and getting the most out of us. As far as putting expectations on the year, I can't do that because we're still trying to get over the loss in the Super Bowl. Like I said, I'm glad to be a part of this team; each and every year, we play good football, we try to play it the right way, and it's been good for us -- since I've been here  and before I got here. I'm pretty sure Coach Belichick isn't going to let that change, and we'll see how that goes."
2. In a reminder that players respond to heartbreaking defeat in different ways, Patriots receiver Chris Hogan had an interesting answer on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" program Friday when asked if winning or losing the game is more mentally exhausting: "Honestly, as a competitor, you just want to move on. You want to reflect on it, you want to think about it, and then you kind of move on. So I'd say winning is probably a little more exhausting. You learn from the loss. Obviously you learn a lot from playing a great team like Philadelphia, but at the end of the day, now I'm looking on to next season and getting ready to try to get back to that moment."
3. The number just seems to keep growing. When former Patriots defensive coordinator and first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia was asked if he'd characterize his defense as a 4-3 or 3-4, he said at the combine, "If you guys study film and watch trends of football, 90 percent of it isn't even regular defense any more. It's all sub. You try to figure it out from there, and it's a little bit different than just the standard answer of 4-3 or 3-4." That was one nugget that stood out from listening to various news conferences of head coaches and personnel men at the combine. For perspective, in 2011, that number was closer to 70 percent for the Patriots.
4. When considering the 90 percent sub-defense number, it highlights the crux of the puzzling decision that Belichick and Patricia made in Super Bowl LII by not playing cornerback Malcolm Butler on defense. It wasn't that Eric Rowe was chosen to start over Butler at cornerback, or that the team played the majority of its snaps in its big nickel package (3 safeties, 2 cornerbacks). Those decisions are easier to understand from a pure football perspective. The part that warrants the most scrutiny -- and why fans who emotionally invest in the team continue to bring up the topic on a daily basis in hopes of better understanding it -- is why the coaches felt safety Jordan Richards (first half) and cornerback Johnson Bademosi (second half) were the better choices as the sixth defensive back over Butler when they went to the dime package, which changed the matchups in the game. The Eagles totaled 161 yards against the dime in the first half (they were 6 of 8 on third down against it) and Bademosi missed a tackle on the initial third down of the second half. For a staff that is widely lauded as putting their players in the best position to succeed, they didn't do that in the most important game of the season, which isn't any easier to understand one month later unless it simply comes down to this: Belichick and Patricia aren't perfect; like the players themselves, they also make mistakes.
5. With running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead scheduled for unrestricted free agency, the Patriots could be looking closely at this year's draft class at the position, so I filed away this thought from Lions general manager Bob Quinn from the combine: "It's a deep class. One underrated aspect of this draft class as I go through it is pass protection. It's something a lot of these guys are skilled at ... which is crucial in this league." Pass protection is something the Patriots might value as much as anything with their running backs, so perhaps this will turn out to be a year where need meets opportunity.
6. Veteran linebacker David Harris, who announced his retirement Feb. 23, plans to remain in the New England area until the end of the school year. That's a decision with family in mind, so he and his wife Jiali won't uproot their daughter from Kindergarten, and then the final destination will represent things coming full circle: The family plans to settle in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Harris had four of the best years of his life at the University of Michigan.
7. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said one aspect that makes this year's draft different from the norm is that possibly four off-the-line linebackers could warrant consideration in the first round. "Typically, there's only two off-the-ball linebackers, so that would be a big year," he said. Mayock added the position has some quality for the "first two, three, four rounds." When I heard that, I thought it was good news for the Patriots, as a case could be made that the position is their top need.
8. Leading off Mayock's call early last week, I asked him his thoughts on possible quarterback options for the Patriots and he responded with a question of his own, "Do you think they're going to go for one at [pick] 31?" My response was that it would be a surprise, but one never knows with the Patriots. That sparked another thought: If the Patriots were seriously considering a quarterback with their initial pick of the second round (No. 43), would they see more value in doing it at 31 instead because contracts in the first round come with a fifth-year option while all other deals are four years? Given their other needs, specifically on defense, it still seems like a longshot. But it's at least worthy of a discussion when considering Tom Brady succession plans; a five-year window vs. a four-year window could end up being significant.
9. Any agent who has a player coming to the Patriots for a workout knows about the important role that director of scouting administration Nancy Meier plays in the organization; she coordinates logistics for all of the team's scouts, free-agent signings, draft choices and tryouts. The 2018 season will be Meier's 44th with the Patriots, and she mostly remains behind the scenes, which made this look inside the team's combine interview room with her unique.
10. This piece started with Harmon, so let's wrap it with him as well. The Patriots' 2013 third-round draft pick wasn't invited to the combine when he was coming out of Rutgers, and I asked him what he might say to those in the same position this year. "The combine is a place we all want to be at; I'd be lying if I was saying I wasn't upset when I didn't get that invitation. But you can't let it stop you," he responded. "The ultimate goal is not to be at the combine, it's to be an NFL player. Those kids will still have opportunities. They will have pro days to impress, visits to impress, private workouts to impress, and I would tell them to do everything in their power when they have the chance to get in front of any NFL personnel to make sure they're ready to take advantage. Don't let that opportunity go to waste because I've seen it get wasted, and guys just pray for their opportunity to come back. I watched the combine, all the drills they did. And I went out there with my position coach at the time, Sam Madison down in Miami, and we did the entire DB drill that they did at the combine. That helped me be ready for my pro day."