FOXBOROUGH -- Rodney Harrison says there are three things he adheres to: 1. Always be positive; 2. Always be positive; and 3. Always be positive.
That philosophy is more than a staple of Harrison's speeches to kids, and it is what will help him deal with a devastating knee injury that has cost him the 2005 season and could spell the end of his NFL career.
The Patriots strong safety addressed the latter possibility yesterday when he spoke to the media via teleconference.
''All I can say is I'm going to work extremely hard to come back from this," said Harrison, who went down in the Week 3 win at Pittsburgh. ''I have no other intentions but to come back and play next season.
''As far as a timetable, do I know? No. I have never been injured like this before. I have never had this type of injury, but talking with other people and communicating with other guys that have had this injury around the league, I have a sense that I can come back and I can recover."
Typically an anterior cruciate ligament tear could require as much as a year of rehab before a player returns to full speed. But Harrison injured two other ligaments in his left knee -- the posterior cruciate and medial collateral -- against the Steelers.
Harrison is undergoing treatment in the Boston area, with the MCL injury, the least severe of the three, being the first priority. When it heals in the next few weeks, Harrison will have surgery. Even without an accompanying MCL injury, many ACL reconstructions are now done a while after the injury, allowing the knee to strengthen and better handle the surgery. Harrison was hurt Sept. 25.
''I'm 32 years old but for some crazy, odd reason my body always responds well to injuries," Harrison said. ''Any time I have had injuries, I have always come back a lot sooner than what is expected. Right now, my knee is responding quite well to treatment and therapy."
One of the most feared hitters in the game, Harrison's playing style is as rugged as any player in the league. He has been hit with more than a quarter of a million dollars in fines in 12 seasons, including a couple of $5,000 tolls for hits delivered in the first two games this season. Without him patrolling the secondary, the Patriots' defense has struggled the last two games. The injury-riddled defensive backfield has looked particularly weak.
''It's not about me. I'm gone," Harrison said. ''Those guys have to go out there and play football. I don't want to ever become a distraction. I just try to sit back and let those guys play football and not become a distraction. But in the same breath, you want to offer your words of advice as well as your experience."
He is sharing that experience with rookie defensive backs Ellis Hobbs and James Sanders.
Sanders, who saw his first action against Atlanta after missing the first month of the season with an ankle injury, was perhaps the best strong safety on the roster behind Harrison. Guss Scott started at safety the last two weeks. The Patriots have since added veterans Arturo Freeman and Michael Stone.
Harrison expects big things from Sanders.
''James is a talented guy," Harrison said. ''He is smart. He is one of those rookies that seems a lot wiser and has a lot more wisdom beyond his years. I think in terms of going out there and playing, I think we will be fine at the strong safety position. He is going to go out there and make plays. He is a tough guy."
The same has been said about Harrison for years. Now he faces his toughest foe, one that isn't as easy to tackle as your average wide receiver.
''A lot of players identify themselves with football, and fortunately for me I've been fortunate enough to be able to identify myself outside of football, outside of Rodney Harrison, strong safety of the New England Patriots," Harrison said. ''With the young players, I use it as an example. 'Hey man, take advantage of your opportunities because with one play it could be the end. Whether it's your season or your career. Don't take it for granted.'
''Sometimes they get tired of me talking to them, saying, 'Play each play like it's your last play.' And that's why when I go home I can look at myself in the mirror and I can be at peace, because I've given everything. I've given respect to the people I've played with. I've given everything in the weight room as well as on the practice field as well as on the game field. I have peace with myself.
''Whether I play again or whether I never play again, I'm at peace with myself because I've given everything."
Growing painsNot only did the team practice indoors for the third consecutive day, but 14 players were downgraded from probable to questionable for tomorrow's game at Denver.
According to the team's injury report, more than a dozen players who on Thursday were a ''virtual certainty to be available for normal duty" are now only a 50-50 bet to play tomorrow. Linebacker Monty Beisel, who was listed as questionable with a finger injury, did not practice the last two days and might not make the trip.
Outside linebacker Willie McGinest (finger), defensive end Richard Seymour (knee), running back Corey Dillon (ankle), and receiver Troy Brown (foot) were not at the start of practice yesterday. All are questionable.
Quarterback Tom Brady maintained his ''probable: shoulder" listing.
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, who is questionable with an injured hamstring, missed his second consecutive workout. He is the only Bronco to miss practice this week. Bailey has missed Denver's last two games.
After further reviewBeisel's first sack as a Patriot came the easy way -- via bureaucracy. Well, sort of.
After reviewing last Sunday's game against Atlanta, the Elias Sports Bureau took a sack from McGinest and gave it to Beisel. The play in question was a long scramble by Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub, with McGinest in pursuit.
Schaub ran across the field and stepped out of bounds as Beisel came up from the secondary. Because Schaub finished 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage, the Patriots were awarded a sack. Because Beisel was a little closer to Schaub than McGinest, he gets credit for the tackle.
Foes are friendsRookie cornerback Hobbs will get a chance to tackle Denver running back Tatum Bell for the first time since they played at DeSoto (Texas) High School. Bell, who is a year older than Hobbs, was the team's star tailback, and Hobbs was his backup. Bell ran for more than 1,200 yards, but when Hobbs got the chance to start as a senior, he rushed for 1,700 yards and 29 touchdowns. DeSoto, which is 15 minutes south of Dallas, has four graduates in the NFL -- Bell, Hobbs, Seattle defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, and Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton . . . Owner Robert Kraft will attend today's Southern Cal-Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind. Kraft, of course, has professional ties with both head coaches, the Trojans' Pete Carroll and Charlie Weis of the Irish.
Jerome Solomon can be reached at email@example.com