FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – New season, same hard-hitting Rodney Harrison, and he won’t ease up just because the target is one of the NFL’s best receivers and headline grabbers.

To the New England Patriots safety, Randy Moss is one of many pass catchers who can make game-winning plays.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Randy Moss, Chris Chambers. It doesn’t matter,” Harrison said Wednesday. “Any guy out there that’s starting in the National Football League is capable of beating you.

“It’s more hype because it’s Randy Moss, who’s a bigger name player, but if I get a chance to hit him, I’ll hit him. If I get a chance to get an interception, I’m going to try to make the interception.”

Moss, traded from Minnesota last March, begins his eighth NFL season and first with the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night in the NFL season opener against the Super Bowl champions.

Harrison, entering his 12th season, has won the NFL championship in both his years with the Patriots while continuing as an aggressive safety, a style that cost him numerous fines over the years for hard or late hits. His role as a leader of the defense may increase after the Patriots lost two starting inside linebackers – Ted Johnson to retirement and Tedy Bruschi to a stroke that is forcing him to take a year off with plans to return in 2006.

“He’s in a mode where he enjoys being a leader,” said wide receiver Tim Dwight, who spent two years in San Diego with Harrison. “I think out there he enjoyed it, but here he just seems like he’s more laid back and he helps coach a little bit more than just showing by example, which he does already, but then he also talks about what he does.”

Harrison’s presence already has rubbed off on Monty Beisel, one of the new starting inside linebackers after he spent his other four seasons in Kansas City.

“The thing that Rodney does best is he sets the tempo for the way things are done around here,” Beisel said. “He’s a great student of the game. He knows what’s going on and he leads by example.”

And his intensity rubs off.

“Just from a pure motivation standpoint and the way he gets out there and plays the game it’s uplifting to everybody,” Beisel said.

Last season, Harrison led all NFL defensive backs in the regular season in tackles then was outstanding during the playoffs with a team-high 27 tackles and four interceptions. His last pickoff with nine seconds left sealed the 24-21 Super Bowl victory over Philadelphia.

“We really put a lot of hard work in,” he said. “There’s nothing easy about winning a game in the National Football League, let alone winning a championship, things that we’ve done in the past. However, that’s in the past.”

The future is Thursday. Harrison and his teammates emphasize not thinking beyond the next game and, sometimes, beyond the next practice.

They have plenty of solid veterans to enforce that attitude.

“We have so many veteran guys like Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Larry Izzo, guys that have been in the fire,” Harrison said. “We lose those two guys (Bruschi and Johnson), but other guys have really stepped up to really meet that challenge.”

Despite the publicity Moss gets – for his ability, for pretending to pull down his pants and moon the Green Bay crowd, for saying he used marijuana – Harrison has more receivers to worry about on Thursday night.

“This is an exciting part of the year right now,” Harrison said. “It’s a huge test for us, a big challenge, because everyone’s talking Randy Moss, but no one’s talking about the (Jerry) Porters, the (Ronald) Currys and the other guys who are very capable players.”

AP-ES-09-06-05 1916EDT


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