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For near future, it's safety in numbers

Patriots Hawkins, Scott have turned the corner on new jobs

FOXBOROUGH -- Artrell Hawkins is obviously comfortable being Artrell Hawkins, and why not? In his ninth NFL season, and second with the Patriots, he's survived and thrived in a physical, sometimes brutal game.

But even successful, 29-year-old football players have others they strive to emulate, and Hawkins revealed yesterday that he wouldn't mind morphing into a mini version of one of his teammates.

"We have kind of a joke that I try to be Rodney [Harrison]," Hawkins said. "I see him play and I see some of the things he does and I try to imitate or mimic some of that stuff."

With the Patriots preparing for life without Harrison Sunday -- and possibly longer -- Hawkins figures to be part of the mix responsible for filling the void. In last Sunday's game against the Colts, he paired with 10-year veteran Chad Scott at safety when Harrison left the game in the first quarter with a broken right scapula.

Unless injured safety Eugene Wilson (hamstring) returns to action, the Hawkins/Scott pairing figures to be back on the field Sunday against the Jets. Both were former cornerbacks, with Hawkins (5 feet 10 inches, 195 pounds) making the switch to safety last year and Scott (6-1, 205) thrust into his first extensive regular-season action at safety. "If you can come up and make tackles, and you're a physical player, then you can play safety," said Hawkins, who played cornerback for the Bengals (1998-2003) and Panthers (2004), and was signed to play that spot with the Patriots before being switched at the urging of current defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

"The difference is basically that you have to know more about the defense, and that's the challenging part. At corner, you're pretty much playing a variation of the same stuff every week, every year. At safety it's not like that. You have to be able to see the whole defense, see the whole offensive formation, and be able to help guys get lined up and make the correct and proper checks."

The 32-year-old Scott played some safety in college, but that was back in the mid-1990s when he was a freshman at Towson State (he later transferred to Maryland). Scott has worked at the position in Patriot practices and described it as "probably a little more mental -- corner is like a track meet every down, safety is more communicating and getting people lined up, being in the right place at the right time."

He was encouraged after the Patriots were competitive against the NFL's top-ranked passing offense.

"I thought we definitely have something to build on," Scott said. "We played a little bit better in the second half than we did in the first. I'm looking forward to communicating and having film study together so we can play well in this game."

While Harrison has established a reputation as a hard hitter, perhaps equally as valuable to the Patriots are his communication skills. Hawkins believes that's an area that will need to be picked up by another player.

"You have a bunch of guys who haven't been as vocal, because when you play with a guy like Tedy Bruschi, or you play with a guy like Rodney Harrison, these guys are leaders, these guys are captains, they take it on as their team, they're the ones that are being the most vocal," Hawkins said.

"When they're not there, now you have a void that you have to fill. If I'm playing with Rodney, I let Rodney make the majority of checks because this is Rodney's team, in my opinion. Not that I can't make the same plays but that's the respect I give for Rodney. When Rodney's not there, other guys have to step up and make those and be confident enough to do it."

Hawkins and Scott spoke with confidence yesterday about stepping in if called upon.

"We're all professionals, whenever your number is called you have to be ready to play, no matter who you are," Hawkins said. "It doesn't matter whether you're Tom Brady or if you're a practice squad player, so when your number is called it's time to go out there and shine."

Added Scott: "I know how to play football. I understand the game. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

With Harrison in the lineup over the last two seasons, the Patriots have posted a 7-2 record and allowed an average of 14.9 points. Without Harrison over that span -- including the two games in which he was injured early -- the team was 10-7 and surrendered an average of 20.5.

As he always does, Hawkins will look to bring the type of edge and physical presence Harrison is known for.

"I just go by my motto, it's kind of what Rodney preached every week -- it's hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and commitment," he said. "You put the work in before and Sunday is fun. Come in, you watch the tape, you prepare physically. I'm much better at this point than I was last year, obviously being new [to the position].

"When you sit down and watch players that are as good as Rodney at the position, you obviously are going to pick something up. I spend a lot of time around him and working out with him, trying to pick his brain, because he's so good. He's the kind of person I want to play like and the kind of player I want to be."

Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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