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Harrison returns to Patriots team that's cruising without him

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Safety Rodney Harrison has returned to a New England team that didn't miss a beat without him.

Harrison was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, reportedly by using human growth hormone.

In his absence, the Patriots went undefeated, winning each game by at least three touchdowns.

"Preparation, all the hard work they put in in the offseason during minicamps, training camp, it's really paid off," Harrison said Wednesday before practicing for the first time since late August. "I'm just looking forward to adding to this team and being a part of it again."

That could be this week, but on Wednesday coach Bill Belichick would not say if Harrison would play Sunday against the Browns, who are coached by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

"Whatever (Belichick) decides," Harrison said. "If he wants me out there, I'll be ready. If he doesn't, then that's on him. I'm always ready to play football."

When the NFL announced his suspension on Aug. 31, Harrison admitted to using a "banned substance" for the purpose of "accelerating the healing process" while recovering from injuries.

On Wednesday, Harrison wouldn't elaborate on that explanation.

Harrison said he was a "better person" after his suspension.

"Hopefully I'll be a better football player," he said. "I just look forward to getting my life and everything back on track."

Harrison, 34, is frequently fined by the league for various on-field infractions and has been cited as the "dirtiest" player in the NFL in polls of his peers, so he's used to taking criticism. But the criticism that followed his suspension stung him.

"I think initially any time someone attacks your character, of course, you get a little defensive," Harrison said. "But I can't go out of my way to try to change everybody's opinion about me. I know what type of person I am."

Harrison's teammates supported him during 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," Tom 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."

With third-year safety James Sanders filling in well for Harrison, the Patriots' pass defense ranks No. 4, allowing an average of 156 yards per game.

Now the rich are about to get richer with Harrison's return.

"He brings a physical presence, a winning attitude," said Browns coach Crennel. "All of those things are positive, and that's what you want on your football team."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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