FOXBOROUGH -- Rodney Harrison heard the whispers, took note of the doubters, and found motivation in those who declared he couldn't do what he is planning to do at his age.
That is why he was all smiles as he lined up with his Patriots teammates for routine stretching before practice, with the Police song ``Roxanne" blaring on the speakers in the background.
It might have been more appropriate if the DJ had played the theme from ``Welcome Back, Kotter."
It was that kind of day at training camp yesterday, as Harrison joined the squad for a workout for the first time since tearing three ligaments in his left knee in a game at Pittsburgh more than 10 months ago.
Defensive end Richard Seymour, tight end Daniel Graham, center Dan Koppen, and cornerback Randall Gay joined Harrison in the exodus from the training room a week and a half after training camp opened.
Perhaps the most significant returnee is Harrison, and not just because he is a must-have in the secondary, but because he is attempting to come back from the most serious of injuries. One he described as a ``devastating" knee injury.
``I mean, it was something, a lot of different thoughts and feelings and emotions going through my mind and my body," Harrison said. ``At the end of the day, when I first stepped on the field, it felt a little weird. Once I did a couple of sprints or whatever, I felt at peace.
``I know I felt good, being in the huddle. I was excited. I was, like, jacked. Then Tom Brady came up and gave me a big smack and he said, `I'm going to burn you.' I said, `Well, you better bring it on.'
``It was just fun, just seeing Tom and his smile, seeing Corey [Dillon] out there; I'm looking forward to one day butting up with him again.
``It's just an unbelievable feeling, [after] nearly having your dreams and something you love so much taken away from you, so you appreciate that much more."
Six players were on the field for their first camp workouts yesterday, with the Patriots removing five from the physically unable to perform list: Harrison, Seymour (quadriceps), Koppen (shoulder), Gay (ankle), and Jonathan Sullivan (failed to pass the conditioning run). Graham, who wasn't on the PUP list despite having shoulder surgery in the offseason, practiced for the first time, too, though he did so wearing a red jersey reserved for injured players who are not allowed any contact.
``I think we cleared the whole training room out today," Koppen said.
``It's good to get a lot of guys back on the football field," Seymour said. ``But when you get on the field, you have to produce. That's the bottom line. It doesn't matter who you have out there, it's about what you do when you're out there."
Harrison, who has started all 41 games (six in the playoffs) that he has played for New England, wasn't immediately placed onto the first unit, a clear indication that he will not play against the Falcons in the first exhibition game Friday. He worked with the scout team, which ran defenses the Patriots expect to see against Atlanta.
``I've really never experienced being on the fourth team," Harrison said. ``Maybe third string, but not fourth team. So that's kind of where I'm at. So I have a lot of hard work to do."
Sporting a large knee brace that he said was as much a part of his wardrobe as his wallet, Harrison moved well in seven-on-seven drills, helping out in coverage and closing on ball carriers. Though the practice was a noncontact workout, Harrison didn't appear to be overly protective of the knee and did everything asked of the other safeties.
``You know what, I didn't come here with the spirit of fear, I came here with a spirit of peace," Harrison said. ``I knew I worked extremely hard in the offseason with my trainers, Jim Whalen and Joe Van Allen, along with my weight coaches, Harold Nash and Mike Woicik. Really worked hard.
``We tried to duplicate every single move I could possibly make in football, so when I came out here, I felt like I was pretty mentally, as well as physically, prepared. I felt pretty good today.
``Whenever you go through something like this, it's probably more mental than anything. Just overcoming that mental stumbling block. Like I said, when I stepped out here on the field, I felt a spirit of peace. That's kind of where I'm at now."
Don't let that ``spirit of peace" fool you. Harrison, who at 33 is still one of the league's most feared hitters, said he'll be more than ready to bring the pain when the time comes. His teammates know his presence makes a difference.
``Rodney is just a great leader, on and off the field," Koppen said. ``He's a very talkative guy, he's been around the league, and guys really look up to him in the locker room. To see him running out here for the first time, I think it especially gives the younger D-backs a little bit of a pickup because they know he's going to be back there pushing them, giving them advice, and just giving them the right reads to make. It definitely helps out everybody."
Injuries to the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate, and medial collateral ligaments often require a year or more of rehabilitation before a player returns to game action. Harrison suffered his injury last Sept. 25; the Patriots' season opener is Sept. 10 at Gillette Stadium against Buffalo.
``I'm looking forward to tomorrow, to see if I can practice tomorrow," Harrison said. ``That's what I'm looking forward to. I'm not worried about Buffalo and what happens in the near future."