FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — New England Patriots safety James Sanders doesn’t have Rodney Harrison to count on this season.

Or maybe he does.

Sanders said he hasn’t forgotten all the lessons he learned from Harrison, the savvy Patriots safety who suffered an injured quadriceps last October and retired after 15 seasons in the NFL, the last six with the Patriots.

“Obviously, when he went down it was hard on everyone, hard on me as well,” Sanders said. “We were close through the years, we sat next to each other in the locker room and we played at that back end for a lot of tough games.”

Harrison was injured in a game against the Denver Broncos, and as he left the field on a golf cart, he seemed to be waving goodbye to the fans after a long and distinguished NFL career that included two Super Bowl titles with the Patriots. Harrison told Sanders that it was time for he and Brandon Meriweather, then a rookie, to step up.

After the season, Harrison decided to move on to a career in broadcasting. When training camp opened this year, Sanders felt the absence of his mentor.

“It’s a lot different,” Sanders said. “When you’re comfortable with the same player, every day, especially this time of year, you get used to that, and now that he’s not here, you feel a little bit of emptiness, but at the same time we all have a job to do.”

Sanders said he can’t be Harrison, whose locker room presence and outsized personality made him one of the team’s unquestioned leaders.

“No one can be Rodney Harrison … there’s only one Rodney Harrison,” Sanders said. “He gave this league 15 great years.”

But Sanders said he’s ready to assume a key role in the Patriots’ defense, in which the safeties make a lot of the calls and must make sure everyone’s in the right spot.

The coaching staff appears convinced Sanders can handle the job. During a press conference Sunday, Patriot Coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of the fifth-year player, lauding his work ethic and attention to detail, including watching tape and spending a lot of time in the classroom.

“James is an excellent leader,” Belichick said. “He plays with a good level of confidence. He’s a very good physical player. He’s a tough kid.”

Later, Belichick paid him the highest of compliments: “You would like to have 53 players like James on your team in terms of his work ethic, his toughness (and) being a teammate.”

Sanders took the kind words in stride.

“It means I’m doing something right, I guess,” he said. “Each and every day it’s a grind out here in training camp. Everyone’s hurt, sore, tired, but all you can do is come out here and give it your all, everything you’ve got. That’s what I try to do each and every day.”

Surrendering long pass plays in key situations hurt the Patriot defense last season; the team allowed the second-highest number of passes 40 yards or longer in the NFL.

“We’re really concentrating on technique in this camp so that if we get beat, it’s going to be on a spectacular play,” Sanders said.

Notes: Quarterback Tom Brady turned 32 Monday and was serenaded by Patriot fans, but it wasn’t all a celebration. Brady and center/guard Dan Connolly had to run a penalty lap after a fumbled snap during a scrimmage play in the morning workout. When asked if he wished Brady a happy birthday, Belichick said, “Yes, I wouldn’t miss that.” … Free agent quarterback Cleo Lemon has worked out with the Patriots, but he hasn’t signed, so the current depth chart remains Brady followed by Kevin O’Connell, Matt Gutierrez and rookie free agent Brian Hoyer.

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