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With big shoes to fill, Scott steps up

FOXBOROUGH -- They are a decade apart in age.

They don't look alike.

They aren't built alike.

So when Rodney Harrison spoke with Guss Scott this week -- and they are likely to talk again before the Patriots play San Diego Sunday -- he did not have to tell Scott to be himself.

''I'm not Rodney Harrison; not even a little bit," Scott said yesterday.

A little bit of Harrison could do plenty for any defense; a whole lot of Harrison, which is what he brought to the field every week, factored significantly in back-to-back championship defenses.

But the Patriots begin life without Harrison this week, after the veteran suffered a season-ending left knee injury in Pittsburgh. Their defensive unit, championship or otherwise, will often have Guss Scott as the last line of defense.

''It's not about me replacing Rodney," Scott said. ''It's not about trying to do what he did, or play the way he played. Of course, the media will talk about that, that's their job."

While the talk is about what the Patriots will do without their leading tackler the past two seasons (and through the first two games this year), Scott said he is concentrating on preparing to do his job. And that should not be misinterpreted to mean he is going about it any differently than he has the first three weeks of the season.

''As a backup, I always prepared as if I was going to play because you never knew when you could get thrown out there," Scott said.

He will indeed be thrown out there this week -- though the Patriots added Michael Stone to the roster -- and he has quietly gone about getting ready.

A good bet to one day be a team spokesman like Harrison, for now, Scott needs to be a defensive stopper like Harrison.

Part of the reason the Patriots' move this season from being an almost exclusive 3-4 team to using more four-man fronts has been successful is Harrison's presence. With one fewer linebacker on the field, the strong safety's run support is vital.

The perceived hole in the middle of the Patriots' defense without Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson could morph into a crater minus Harrison -- or his near equivalent.

''What makes a good safety a good football player, first and foremost, is his instincts and his ability to find the ball and be around the ball," coach Bill Belichick said. ''On defense, when you're the last line of defense, which a safety generally is, then it's his ability to make good decisions, not give up big plays, cover people in the deeper part of the field, tackle the runner, take proper leverage, and take proper angles to get to the guy and then actually physically be able to do it and finish the play.

''Whether it's intercept the pass, make the tackle, knock the ball down, whatever it is, that's all important, too. But just to put an athlete out there that isn't instinctive, that doesn't really understand the game or doesn't react as quickly to the game as the offense that is running the play, he's probably not going to be a very good safety . . . because that is what two of the big requirements of the position are: figure out everything that is happening, and then do the right thing."

Nowhere in the coach's version of a filibuster in his first news conference after Harrison's status was known to the world did he mention fiery demeanor or vocal leadership. Had he done so, he would have had to mention Harrison, which he did not want to do.

Eugene Wilson, the Patriots' free safety, has said Harrison's aggressiveness is contagious.

''He's like a crazy man out there, he's a wild man," Wilson said. ''Seeing him run around and hit people the way he does, it makes me want to do the same thing."

The Patriots typically won't get that from Scott, who, like Wilson, is the quiet sort. What could prove to be more significant is that at 5 feet 10 inches, 205 pounds with only three games of NFL experience, Scott won't be an enforcer like Harrison (6-1, 220), who has a history of leading the team in fines for vicious hits as well as tackles.

When given the opportunity, Scott has covered well this season, and he is sharp enough to know the defense and execute the plays. The second-year player spent last year on the sideline because of a knee injury, but he learned how the Patriots employ safeties from studying alongside and watching Harrison and Wilson.

But being where you're supposed to be and making the plays are separate issues.

In the middle of the third quarter against Pittsburgh, Scott joined Wilson in a meeting of the pads with tight end Heath Miller at the New England 15-yard line. After a tremendous collision, and despite a 50-pound weight disadvantage with Miller, Scott made the stop . . . from his back, 5 yards later.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Scott was the third Patriot to take a shot at the Steelers' Verron Haynes, a 222-pound running back, who had gotten free out of the backfield. Scott dived shoulder-first into Haynes to make the tackle. Haynes got up and celebrated. Scott needed medical attention.

''Guss isn't as big, so he's not going to be laying the number of big hits on big running backs and tight ends, but as long as he gets 'em to the ground, that's all that matters," Wilson said.

Will Scott do that on a consistent basis?

''I just play football," Scott said. ''I key on doing my job and helping the defense do its job as a whole.

''It's not me replacing Rodney. Players are lost every year. What's important is 11 guys getting the job done, whoever they are."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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