Patriots

Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison has switched positions for NBC

Rodney Harrison
Rodney Harrison during his 2019 induction into the Patriots' Hall of Fame. Jim Davis/Globe Staff


During his Hall of Fame-worthy 15-year NFL career, Rodney Harrison played one primary role: hard-hitting safety.

Now 48 years old, Harrison is in his 13th season with NBC’s “Football Night in America” broadcast. But this year, his role has changed — and once in a while it might even require him to ask a hard-hitting question or two.

After 12 years of fine work and candor as a studio analyst (Harrison did the job remotely last season), he is on-site this season along with Jac Collinsworth at the venue of the weekly “Sunday Night Football” matchup.

“It’s going great personally,” said Harrison. “I’ve done the studio work for 12 years and I have a good time there. And now, this is another opportunity, another challenge.

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“I’m kind of in my own element, my natural element that’s been on the football field around the players, around the coaches, around the fans, working with Jac. He’s younger, so he has a lot of energy that’s contagious.”

Harrison and Collinsworth, the son of “Sunday Night Football” analyst Cris Collinsworth, already have chemistry from their work on “Safety Blitz,” a one-hour weekly NFL analysis program that airs exclusively on Peacock. They also team up on NBC Sports’ new “SNF” postgame show on the streaming service, “Peacock Sunday Night Football Final.”

In his new role, Harrison and Collinsworth begin the show outside the stadium among fans, bands, and cheerleaders. There’s a hint of a “College GameDay” vibe to it. They then move inside the stadium before kickoff and report from the sidelines.

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Harrison’s duties include interviewing coaches and players during the pregame. Among those he’s interviewed so far: Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

“It’s been a lot of fun being able to connect with the players, and ask them about details I notice or am curious about as a former player,” said Harrison.

“But what’s really made all of this enjoyable is having fans back in the stands. Trust me, I’m very grateful that we have fans around us, because it’d be hard to generate the energy and enthusiasm you need on the broadcast without fans in there.”

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NBC has the appealing Packers-49ers matchup from Levi’s Stadium in the Bay Area this Sunday. But it would be easy to look ahead to what’s coming next: the Patriots-Buccaneers showdown next Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

Much of the Boston media and more than a smattering of fans were guilty of looking ahead to the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick clash, which will be among the most-anticipated games in NFL history. But Harrison, following that one-game-at-a-time mantra drilled into him during his six seasons with the Patriots, is focused on this week.

“No way, there’s no excuse for looking ahead,” he said. “That’s just totally disrespecting the Saints and everything that they’ve accomplished over the years. You can’t worry about Tampa when you still have to take care of business. And trust me, even after this win against the Jets, there’s still a lot of things that the Patriots need to correct, so they can’t be looking past a team. They’re not good enough to look past them.”

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Harrison acknowledged he has watched film on the Patriots. His assessment?

“They should be 2-0, not 1-1,” he said. “The defensive line is somewhat of a concern, stopping the run. A lot of missed tackles at the linebacker position and at all three levels. So that’s concerning.

“I would like to see the offensive line be able to block a little better on the five-step drops that Mac [Jones] is taking. The quick passing game, he’s getting the ball out and he hasn’t turned the ball over. But there have been instances where it’s like, ‘Wow, OK, he needs to throw the ball downfield,’ and that comes with a healthy offensive line. And that comes with more reps.”

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Harrison has been impressed by how quickly Jones has won over the Patriots’ veterans.

“Nobody gives a damn about whether he’s a first-round choice, any of that crap,” Harrison said. “Teammates want to know how you prepare. How you work. Are you humble? Do you come in and work every single day? Do you put your teammates first? Are you self-motivated, all those type of things? And then when you go through that checklist, this kid checks out clean. He’s about his team. He’s about his teammates. It’s not about him.

“When you see a quarterback run 30 yards down the field and he’s pushing the pile into the end zone during a run [on Damien Harris’s touchdown against the Jets], that just shows you how much the kid loves football,” added Harrison. “When I see that, and I’m a former Patriot, I get pumped up. I want to jump through the roof when I saw him in the end zone pushing guys. Those little things man, watching the tape, It’s just awesome to see.”

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