Harrison stands out, especially against Colts

Glen Farley

Question Rodney Harrison’s sense of direction last Sunday, if you wish.

Harrison’s road from New England to Indianapolis took him through Dallas.

Do not question Harrison’s sense of purpose, however.

In anticipation of his assignment inside the RCA Dome later that day, when he would be asked to shadow tight end Dallas Clark, it seems the veteran strong safety beat the Indianapolis sun in rising at 4:30 last Sunday morning in order to watch film of the Colts’ offense.

The early show paid dividends for Harrison. This early bird caught a Peyton Manning pass.

“Since I’ve been here, he’s obviously had some prime-time performances, but this definitely ranks up there,” five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour said in speaking of the effort Harrison turned in against Clark. “Covering one of their best players coming off injury-filled last few seasons and still to be able to play at a high level, I think that it just speaks volumes of his preparation. Even this (bye) week, he was in the film room all week long. So it doesn’t surprise me what he’s been able to do.”

What was surprising was the approach the Patriots took in limiting the 6-3, 252-pound Clark to two receptions for 17 yards in their 24-20 win over the Colts inside the RCA Dome.

In the wake of his six-catch, 137-yard performance in their 38-34 loss to the Colts in last season’s AFC Championship Game, wasn’t this precisely why the Patriots went out and invested serious money ($35 million over five years) in Adalius Thomas, the Baltimore Ravens’ athletic free-agent linebacker, during the offseason?

Last Sunday, though, Thomas, who has been nursing an ankle injury, was relegated to a backup role, contributing just two tackles to the cause in limited time.

Harrison, one of five defensive backs employed in schemes that often took on the looks of a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5 (with Harrison lined up at linebacker), was rising early in anticipation of a day in which he would be credited with six tackles and a third-quarter interception.

“That’s who he is and that’s what I expected,” Patriots inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “That’s why I’m not surprised about it. I’m not going to jump on his back and tell him how surprised I was that he did something like that. I’m going to tell him, ‘OK, when are you going to do it again?’”

In the aftermath of injury-shortened 2005 and 2006 campaigns (when a knee injury kept him out of the AFC Championship Game in Indy) that limited him to a total of 13 starts, some may have wondered if the 34-year-old Harrison would ever be capable of performances like last Sunday’s again.

But after sitting out an NFL-imposed four-game suspension at the outset of this season, punishment for a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, Harrison believes he has returned to his old form.

“I think I am (back),” Harrison said. “I’ve been working extremely hard in practice with conditioning, just from a mental aspect in film room preparation, in the weight room, and just making sure I’m ready to go in all aspects of the game and I feel like I’m ready.”

He certainly was in Indianapolis.

“I think that’s what film study is about,” Harrison said. “I’m not going to say (he picked up on) anything in particular, but I’ve worked extremely hard since I’ve been back and really during my career in studying film and trying to pick up tendencies and stuff like that. Just going out there and challenging a tremendous tight end, one of the best in the game, and we were able to neutralize him. That was the whole key. Not letting him beat us.”

Of note

The Patriots filled their eight-man practice squad by re-signing safety Ray Ventrone on Friday.

Ventrone made his NFL debut last Sunday in Indianapolis, logging some time on special teams, but was released on Wednesday as one of the two moves necessary (the previous day’s release of tight end Marcellus Rivers was the other) to free up roster space for the activations of wide receiver Chad Jackson and cornerback Eddie Jackson off the physically unable to perform list.