by Christopher Price
On Wednesdays in the Patriots’ locker room, quarterback Tom Brady usually draws the most media attention. A crowd of cameras three-deep surround his locker, creating a mob scene as reporters fight for a quote or two.
But yesterday, it was veteran safety Rodney Harrison who drew the bulk of the attention. He spoke to the media for the first time since his return from a four-week suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, reportedly for using human growth hormone.
Harrison was quiet, explaining himself and his actions in a calm and dispassionate manner in a session with the media that lasted approximately 10 minutes. He said he was a “better man” for having gone through the process.
“I’m a better man because of it, and a better person. Hopefully, I can be a better football player,” he said. “I look forward to getting my life and getting everything back on track and moving forward.”
Harrison spent his time away on a variety of things, including spending time with his family and on the golf course. He did work out twice a day, engaging in his usual routine of yoga, pilates, on-field work and time in the weight room. While he was away, he kept in touch with “several” players, and told them to keep their eyes on the prize.
“I told them to continue to focus on football,” he said. “Don’t worry about me, because I’m fine.”
Since he returned at the start of the week, he said his teammates have been supportive, but he doesn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone in the locker room.
“Everyone may have different opinions — and everyone may not share them with you — but like I said, I can’t go out of my way to try and change everyone’s opinion of me,” he said quietly. “I know what kind of person I am, and I know the people close to me who I have contact with know and understand who I am and what I’m about.”
Running back Sammy Morris says that’s the attitude you have to take. Morris was suspended for four games last season for being found in violation of the league’s steroid penalty after taking Sudafed. No matter how difficult it might be, you can’t let whispers get to you.
“That was initially the toughest thing for me, having to deal with the knowing that people are going to draw conclusions with or without the information,” Morris said. “So in the end, it’s really no business of mine what other people think of it. They’re just going to draw their own conclusions, regardless of what they hear.”
According to his teammates, Harrison doesn’t have anything to worry about, at least in his own locker room. Several teammates said both on and off the record yesterday that they would welcome Harrison back, no questions asked. Not only that, but Brady said Harrison’s words would still carry the same weight in the locker room as they did before his suspension.
“He’s one of the most respected players in here, and one of the most respected players that’s ever been in this organization,” Brady said. “I think he’s everything that you look for in a football player. He’s great and I look up to him. I admire everything that he’s done. He’s great.
“The experience that he has, the way that he performs and what he expects from himself is second to none. We’re all lucky to have him. He’s everything this team is all about.”
“Whenever you’re not allowed to play, whether it’s injuries or whatever it may be, I think your emotions are definitely higher when you come back and you get a chance to do what the team brought you here for,” Morris said. “I know it’s frustrating being away. I know he’ll be relieved to get back out there.”
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK FOR THIS WEEK
1. Pressure from the Cleveland linebackers. The Browns have just four sacks this season, one of the worst totals in the league, but three of those sacks have come from the linebackers. Last year, according to Pro Football Prospectus, Cleveland had 71 percent of their sacks come from their linebacking corps, the highest such percentage in the league.
2. The Patriots level of familiarity with the Browns’ defense. Cleveland Head Coach Romeo Crennel uses the same base defense he ran when he was the New England defensive coordinator, and the Patriots know it. “It’s pretty much our defense,” Brady said of Cleveland. That doesn’t bode well for the Browns, who, despite being a field goal from starting the season 3-1, have allowed an average of 427.5 yards per game, the 31st in the league.
3. Tom Brady’s continued pursuit of Ken Anderson. Through four games, the New England quarterback has completed 79.2 percent of his passes, and is well on his way to breaking Anderson’s mark of 70.55, set in 1982. (The Cleveland pass defense has held opponents to a 61.2 completion percentage this season.)
4. How things shake out at safety for the Patriots. Rodney Harrison says he’s ready to go, but it’s likely that they’ll still lean heavily on James Sanders. Because of injuries and his recently completed suspension, Sanders has taken virtually the same amount of defensive snaps as Harrison over the last year and a half, so it’s reasonable to think that the coaching staff would be comfortable sticking with Sanders as they ease Harrison back into the mix.
5. How many people at Gillette Stadium are going to be looking for a television set at 3:30 or so on Sunday. The last time there was such a high-level conflict came four years ago this week when the Titans and Patriots were playing opposite a Sox-A’s playoff game. Both the Patriots and Sox won, and the victory was the first of 21 straight for the Patriots.
STAT OF THE WEEK
30. Through the first four games, the Patriots’ defense is holding opposing offenses to just a 30 percent conversion rate on third-down opportunities. It’s the lowest percentage on the league.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Those guys (New England) are a bunch of grown men. They are a mature football team, and we have to figure out how to get to that level. We are constantly trying to figure out how to play like that.” –Bengals offensive lineman Willie Anderson, speaking with reporters after Monday’s game.
Christopher Price is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Patriots since 2001 for Boston Metro. He’s served a contributor to ESPN.com, SI.com, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. His book “The Blueprint: How the New England Patriots Beat the System to Create the Last Great NFL Superpower” will be released in October by Thomas Dunne Books. He can be reached at [email protected].