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Pats' Harrison returns to practice

Rodney Harrison was back on the field for the first time since a devastating knee injury more than 10 months ago.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Aug. 7, 2006) -- Rodney Harrison was back on the field for the first time since a devastating knee injury more than 10 months ago.

The Patriots' defensive leader didn't get much sympathy from Tom Brady, though. The quarterback flashed a smile and issued a challenge.

"Tom Brady came up and gave me a big smack and he said, 'I'm going to burn you,"' Harrison said. "And I said, 'Well, you better bring it on."'

The spirit may have been there, but the safety wasn't at full speed during his first practice of training camp, which began July 28. But, with a brace on his left knee and confident about his rigorous rehab program, he wasn't afraid of getting hurt again, either.

"I didn't come here with a spirit of fear. I came here with a spirit of peace," Harrison said. "I knew I worked extremely hard this offseason."

Harrison was a major contributor to Super Bowl championships in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. But he tore three ligaments in his left knee in the third game last season and could only watch helplessly when the Patriots were eliminated in their second playoff game, a 27-13 loss at Denver.

Starting center Dan Koppen couldn't help either. A torn rotator cuff ended his season after nine games and he also practiced for the first time.

Harrison, Koppen, defensive end Richard Seymour, cornerback Randall Gay and defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan were taken off the physically-unable-to-perform list and participated in practice.

"I think we cleared the whole training room out pretty much today," said Koppen, who isn't at full strength. "Probably for the first time in my life I was happy to be at a training camp practice."

Running back Patrick Pass and tackle Nick Kaczur are the only Patriots still on the list.

"Going through the locker room right before practice," running back Kevin Faulk said, "and you see the guys that have been out for a couple of weeks and you see them with their pads on, you're very delighted."

Harrison's return should have the most impact on the Patriots.

"Rodney's a great leader on and off the field," Koppen said. "To see him running out here for the first time, I think it gives, especially those younger defensive backs, a little bit of a pickup because they know he's going to be back there pushing them and giving them advice."

Harrison has been a vocal leader and hard hitter ever since he joined the Patriots after San Diego released him.

What motivated him the most during his comeback?

The feeling by some that "he's 33 years old. He'll never play again. That's all the motivation I need," Harrison said.

But, having been patient with his recovery so far, he doesn't want to do more than he and the team's trainers and strength coaches feel he should do.

So he described the significance of his return in two words: "One practice."

And he wasn't thinking about whether he would be ready for the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 10.

"I'm looking forward to tomorrow and see if I can practice," he said.

Harrison did individual drills, played on the scout team and got re-acclimated to being on the field.

"There were just a lot of different thoughts and feelings and emotions going through my mind and my body," he said. "When I first stepped on the field it felt a little weird. But once I ran a couple of sprints, I felt at peace."

That's a huge change from how he felt last Sept. 25 as he lay on the Gillette Stadium field in the first quarter of a 23-20 win over Pittsburgh.

Harrison, who had started every game since he joined the Patriots, was hurt when wide receiver Cedrick Wilson hit his legs after being bumped by a New England player.

He might not be ready to go at full speed, but he did race over and chase Troy Brown out of bounds after the wide receiver caught a long pass.

Still, Harrison knows he was some catching up to do.

"I made a joke with one of" his teammates, he said. "I said, 'I really never experienced being on the fourth team.' That's kind of where I'm at, so I've got a lot of hard work to do."

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