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Harrison still heavy-handed

Veteran just as fiery as ever

Rodney Harrison worked hard to get to his 15th training camp. Rodney Harrison worked hard to get to his 15th training camp. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / July 31, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Bill Belichick said yesterday that Rodney Harrison brings a certain presence to the field. Belichick was speaking in the metaphysical sense, but it didn't take the contact-seeking safety, who came off the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, long to make his physical presence felt.

During a red zone drill, wide receiver Sam Aiken tried to catch a ball coming across the middle of the end zone. He ended up catching a forearm shiver from Harrison.

"Yeah, it took him barely a day, two practices, until you notice that 37 is still going to go out there and hit you across the middle," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "That's the presence Bill is talking about, the physical nature of his game."

Harrison's intrinsic value and his intimidating on-field style make him an essential part of the Patriots' defense. At this stage of his storied career, entering its 15th season, Harrison's presence on the field isn't a given. But at a time when a lot of his peers are out of the game, the 35-year-old is still, in his words, acclimating players to his shoulder pads.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

"To me, it's all predicated on a couple of things," said Harrison. "One is the workouts and the workout intensity. Do I feel like getting up in the morning at 5:30 a.m., working out twice a day, doing all the little things that it takes in order to keep yourself in great shape?

"And [two], do I want to continue to fly around and hit people and be a part of these meetings? Both answers are yes. I still have that [fire]. I still feel pretty good. I've watched myself on tape, and I'm still moving halfway decent. I'm excited, and Bill, he still wants me to play here. My teammates are still supporting me, and I'm excited."

Belichick is also excited to see Harrison back on the field, preparing for a sixth season in New England.

"It's good. He's got a confidence and a presence out there that is special," said Belichick. "I'm sure everybody on the field, not just the defensive backs, all the defensive players, the coaches, the offensive players, they feel that presence. They feel that confidence. They feel kind of that air he brings when he walks onto the field."

Aiken certainly felt it. So did running back Laurence Maroney. There will be quite a few offensive players celebrating the day Harrison hangs up his spikes.

Few could blame him if he decided to pack it in after the adversity he's endured since the Patriots' last Super Bowl title in 2004. It's been a tumultuous three seasons for the safety sui generis.

After blowing out his left knee three games into the 2005 season and being forced to miss the 2006 playoffs with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, the result of a borderline block by the Titans' Bobby Wade in the regular-season finale, Harrison was suspended for the first four games last season by the NFL for using performance-enhancing drugs. He bounced back to play in 12 games and finish with 67 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. The all-time leader in sacks by a safety with 30 1/2, Harrison is the only player in NFL history with at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions (he has 33).

Those are the numbers Harrison focused on instead of his age and years of NFL service.

"Nowadays, it's really all about how you take care of yourself. It's really not all about age," Harrison said. "I've seen younger guys that are 27, 28 not taking care of themselves and out partying. They're out of the league right now. So it's all about production. It's not about age. It's about how you take care of yourself, how you approach the game, the mental aspect of the game, and making plays. If you can do that, you'll be around. If you can't, you'll be gone."

How much longer does Harrison plan to stick around?

He was coy when asked, just as he was when asked why he was on the PUP list, laughing his way through a boilerplate "just working hard to get better" response to the latter question.

But the end could be near. Harrison will carry a $3.7 million salary cap number this season and is in the last year of his contract.

If he didn't still have the fire for football, Harrison wouldn't be sweating out summer sessions with the Patriots, and he wouldn't have pushed himself through early-morning offseason workouts to prepare for them.

The heart and soul of the Patriots' secondary is approaching his 15th training camp with the same excitement he did his first.

"The passion is still there," said Harrison. "If it wasn't, I definitely would not be here. I'd be at home with my boys and my little daughter and not on this practice field. I would never take an opportunity like this and take it for granted. If I didn't have that same passion, fire, or desire, I wouldn't be here."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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