The NFL has just released an official statement on Rodney Harrison from a spokesperson:
Rodney Harrison of the New England Patriots has been suspended without pay for the team’s first four regular-season games of 2007 for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.
Harrison’s suspension begins immediately. He is eligible to return to the Patriots’ active roster on Tuesday, October 2 following the team’s October 1 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Moments ago on a conference call with reporters, veteran safety Rodney Harrison confirmed the ESPN report that he will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season because of a violation of the NFL policy on banned substances.
Harrison was adamant about the fact that he did not take steroids, but he said he did admit to commissioner Roger Goodell that he “did, in fact, use a banned substance” in hopes of “accelerating the healing process of injuries I sustained while playing football.”
Over the last few seasons, Harrison has been dogged by injury, ultimately spending more time on the sidelines than on the field. He played in just 10 games last season because of injuries to his right knee (against the Titans) and right shoulder (against the Colts). In 2005, he played in only three games after tearing the ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee in a game against the Steelers.
“I haven’t made excuses nor will I make excuses,” Harrison told reporters. “I made a mistake and I’m very sorry for that. I understand that I’m a role model to high school to college, to young kids.
“I don’t condone my decision, my behavior. I’m very, very embarrassed by it. I’m disappointed in myself and to any young person, any high schooler, any college athlete I sent the wrong message with my actions. And I would ask and I would want to be the example for them to never jeopardize what they believe in and never jeopardize their health. And they always have to love themselves.”
Harrison did not take questions.
Harrison will sit for the first four games of the regular season — he’ll miss the games against the Jets (Sept. 9), Chargers (Sept. 16), Bills (Sept. 23) and Bengals (Oct. 1). The loss of Harrison will likely be felt the hardest in Week Two and Week Four — San Diego and Cincinnati have the strongest offenses of the four opponents New England will face over the first full month of the season.
It’s unlikely the suspension will not throw the New England secondary into a state of panic. Because Harrison has struggled with injury the last few seasons, the Patriots have gotten used to life without him. If Eugene Wilson is healthy enough, he will likely start at one of the safety positions, while either rookie Brandon Meriweather (who saw plenty of action at safety in the preseason finale against the Giants) or third-year man James Sanders will start at the other safety spot.
Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of Bill Belichick’s conference call with the media this afternoon:
BB: I’m just kind of following up from last night. I was impressed with the way the team played. We didn’t really play very many players, but we got a good long look at them. A number of those guys played on a lot of special teams plays as well as their offensive and defensive units. There were certainly some positive things to see from a lot of players almost throughout the entire duration of the game. Certainly there are a lot of things that we need to work on and things that were far from perfect, but overall I thought it was a positive effort. Right now we’re just going to have to go through a lot of personnel decisions here in the next day and a half and figure out exactly what we want to try to do. There are a number of factors involved, not only just roster decisions, but practice squad spots, some of the physical condition of our players and so forth. That will be part of it and then, of course, we want to get started on the game preparation for the Jets. That’s kind of where we are here for the short term. We’ll let you know when we’ve made any of those personnel moves. There are a lot of moving parts.
Q: It seems like the quarterbacks might make things a little bit more challenging for you in making those decisions. All three guys really played well last night. Can you give us your thoughts if you would be willing to keep four quarterbacks when you make the final roster?
BB: Well, we’ve done it before. We’ve kept four. We’ve kept two and we’ve kept three. We’ll do whatever we think is the best decision for the football team. We’ll try to take everything into consideration when we make that decision, not just that decision, but the other roster spots that may be influenced or affected by that as well. I like what the three guys did last night. I thought they all, at various points, handled themselves well and did some good things.
Q: Can you talk a little about Bam Childress? He seems like he would be a tough guy to cut if you had to because of his versatility.
BB: I think you said it best. Bam showed a lot of versatility. We’ve also used him on defense. Last year, he played both the running back and receiver spots in the Jacksonville game. I think that’s one of his biggest strengths, is his versatility, his intelligence and the fact that he has value in more than one spot.
Q: Has he learned a lot from being around some of these good receivers that you’ve had here over the last few years?
BB: Bam is a smart guy and he’s very attentive and works hard. I’m sure he’s learned from everybody that he’s been around – the quarterbacks, the coaches, the other players, the receivers, guys on defense. He is a student of the game and he works hard at it.
Q: Do you put any stock in the seven sacks of [Jared] Lorenzen, eight overall? I know the second and third stringers were doing a lot of that. Is that a pleasing sign that leaves an impression?
BB: Of course it’s always good to hit the quarterback. Again, we try to look at the plays maybe a little bit more on an individual basis when you’re evaluating players. Sometimes you have guys that make a good pass rush move and the coverage isn’t tight enough and they throw the ball because there’s a receiver open, and so it doesn’t show up in the stats. Then, another time, the coverage is good and the quarterback has to hold the ball and it really isn’t a very good pass rush but the result of the play is that you hit the quarterback because maybe more because of coverage than pass rush. From a team standpoint, it’s all interrelated and we’ve talked about that a lot, but from an individual evaluation standpoint, sometimes the overall performance of the group skews the production a little bit from what I would say it actually is on an individual basis, in either direction. Again, we just try to look at that and do the best we can evaluating all of the players and what they did and who they did it against and how often it happened and how consistent they are and so forth.
Q: Do we have any idea of the severity of Oscar Lua’s injury?
BB: Not right now, just looking at him, and all of the players really, from after the game.
Q: How do injuries play into tomorrow’s decisions? Are there pretty clear rules governing releasing injured players and that type of thing?
BB: Well, not really. The rules are if you release a player that is injured, then you work out some kind of monetary settlement with that player one way or another and he doesn’t count on your roster. It’s just like you release any other player, depending on how long the player is going to be out for, that’s governed by the collective bargaining agreement and that’s worked out between the club and the player or eventually it could be arbitrated by a third party if the two sides couldn’t agree, but that’s pretty clear cut. Part of the decision making that the clubs have to deal with is if you carry a player who is injured or unable to play for a while, then essentially you’re at 52, or 51, however many of those players you have, who can’t play until they’re healthy and depending on the injury, it could be different lengths of time. So that could factor into the decision too, how long you’d want to carry a player that’s not going to be able to play, how long can you afford to do that? That’s how it plays a part. If you release him, you release him, then you just settle with him. If you don’t release him, how long are you carrying a player that won’t be able to participate?
Q: Is that monetary hit that you guys take for releasing an injured player count against the cap?
BB: Yes, it’s part of the player’s salary.
Q: How has Dante Wesley done? What have you thought of him since you acquitted him in the trade from Chicago?
BB: I think he has improved. Our system is a little bit different than the one they ran up there and so he’s had to adjust to some different techniques and different emphasis points in the scheme, but he is a hard-working kid. He’s been out there every day. He’s shown up in the kicking game, made some plays on defense. I think he’s certainly put himself in a competitive position, relative to playing for this team.
Q: With Brandon [Meriweather] playing safety all game, he played a lot at corner and now he’s played a full game at safety. When you saw him coming into the summer and his position flexibility, and now that you’ve seen it over the course of training camp, are you happy that he’s proficient at both of spots in your system?
BB: Yes, it worked out that way that we were able to give him an opportunity to play, really, all three positions – corner, nickel back and safety. The way that things fell last night with the players, we had more corners available than safeties, so it was good to be able to get him some playing time at safety. Going forward, we’ll just have to decide what the best thing for him and the team is in terms of the positions that he plays. I do feel like he gives us some depth at all of those spots. We’ll just have to prioritize how it’s going to go and it may change from game to game too. It may not stay the same every week. We’ll just have to take it as it comes. We thought he would have flexibility coming into our system and he’s shown that he does have some and he also has a lot of things to work on and the more positions you give him, then the more things there are for him to learn and get proficient at. He has a lot of work to do, but he’s shown some versatility and some playmaking ability on the defensive side of the ball, and showed up a little bit in the kicking game last night too, so that was good.
Q: Can you talk briefly about Heath Evans, one of the potential first string guys who was out there a lot last night playing with a bunch of kids? He’s been a workhorse through camp and maybe doesn’t get a lot of publicity. What does he bring to the table?
BB: Well, again, last week against Carolina, Heath got a few carries, but we wanted to give him an opportunity to get his hands on the ball a little bit more in this game and make sure that he was ready for the season, as well as some plays in the kicking game. He got an opportunity to do that and that was good. I thought he did a pretty good job with it for the most part. Heath is another guy that gives us some position flexibility offensively. He’s carried the ball. He’s picked up the blitz. He’s played some fullback, not the running back position in our offense, and he’s also participated in some kicking situations. His versatility, his intelligence, his toughness, he’s been durable and dependable and we’ve all seen him run with power and make some tough yards. I think he has a lot of things going for him and we wanted to give him an opportunity last night to be able to get some experience in those roles in preseason a little more so than he did in the first couple of games, so I think we did that and that was good.
Q: You don’t see too many quarterbacks on special teams. Matt Gutierrez was out there last night. Was that just him trying to make himself more valuable to you?
BB: Sure. Matt runs fairly well. Again, we didn’t have that many players participating in the game so we could use all of the bodies we could get there. Matt runs well enough to be able to participate in some of the special teams plays. There’ve been other guys in that situation and we’ve all seen that before, so we just wanted to take a look at it and evaluate it and see whether that is worth investing time in or whether it’s a waste of time.
Q: Has there been enough time for Richard Seymour and David Thomas who’ve been on the PUP list to get off of it and be able to practice enough to where they would have a legitimate chance of playing against the Jets?
BB: I think they’re in the day-to-day category. Certainly some of that will play into our decisions here over the next day and a half. I think with those kinds of things, you give the situation as much time as you can and sometimes another day or two can give you a little bit more information to work with. That’s probably what we’ll do, take as much time as we have and get as much information as we can and then try to make the best decision for the team that we can.
Q: Are you generally encouraged with the overall health of the team at this point moving forward?
BB: I don’t think it really makes any difference whether I am or not. We have to take our situation and try to make the most of it and that’s really all we’re trying to do. I’m not trying to grade it, whether it’s better or worse, good, bad or that type of thing. We’ll just take what is and try to understand it the best that we can and look at all of our options and do what we feel like is the best thing for the team. That’s really all we can do.
Q: How much leeway do you have in constructing your game day roster?
BB: It goes without saying that if you’re going to be heavy in one area, you’re going to be light somewhere else. I know we’ve had as many as 11 linebackers active for a game. My guess is we’ve probably had as many as 11 defensive backs active as well. I think seven offensive linemen has pretty much been the norm for us, either five or six defensive linemen and a couple of quarterbacks and four or five receivers. There’s a certain number of people that I’d say it’s relatively fixed. After that, there are other variables. If it’s 11 linebackers, it’s going to be not as many defensive backs or tight ends or running backs. If it’s more balanced, then you’re going to have more of a balanced roster. I think my first year here, if I’m not mistaken, we carried six backs into a lot of games. I don’t remember doing that in recent years, very often if at all. I don’t think we’ve done it in a while. I’m sure we carried six back in 2000. It just depends on the makeup of your roster. Sometimes the game day activations are sometimes more special teams related than they are position related. So, for example, if you have a fullback, or a running back, who plays on all of your special teams and you have another running back who plays on all of your special teams and another year you have a couple of linebackers that play on all your special teams, but those players really don’t play very many offensive or defensive plays, then to be honest with you, I’m not sure if it makes any difference. What difference does it make if you carry six backs or four backs? Those extra backs are your core special teams players. Defensively, if you carry 10 linebackers instead of eight, but the extra two linebackers are your core special teams players, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re linebackers, backs, tight ends or defensive backs. If that’s what you need them for and they’re the best you have at it, then it doesn’t really matter what position they play, that’s going to be their primary role. You know as well as I do that we’ve had a number of players that would fall into that category that were almost exclusively special teams players, whether it be Chris Floyd at fullback back in 2000 or Je’Rod Cherry as a safety, Larry Izzo as a linebacker. Those guys didn’t get a whole lot of defensive or offensive playing time, they were core special teams players and sometimes the positions that they come from fluctuate a little bit, but you’re looking to get your best team out there. That’s kind of the way we view it.
We’ll have the complete Q&A from Head Coach Bill Belichick’s conference call with the media this afternoon coming soon. But until then, check out my latest edition of “10 Things We Learned…” from last night’s Patriots-Giants preseason finale.
Here’s more postgame Q&A from the New England locker room after tonight’s preseason finale against the Giants:
Eric Alexander, Linebacker
(On playing with first-team defense)
You want to go as good as you can against the first-teamers because you want to show that you’re prepared to play against the starters. I thought we fared well and showed a lot of toughness. We came away with a win so we’re excited about that.
(On preparing for Jets)
We’re working on that. I can’t say that we’re quite ready yet, but we’ve got a whole week to prepare for that and I think we’ll be ready for opening day.
(On playing time tonight)
Well, I missed the first two preseason games, so it was nice to get out there and knock a little rust off.
Le Kevin Smith, Defensive Line
(On impressions left in preseason)
They played me in a couple of different spots, so I tried to make the most of my opportunities. That was my mindset heading into those couple of games.
(On getting ready for the season)
As far as my mindset of whether I’ll be here after the cuts are made, I try not to do that because you’ll drive yourself crazy.
(On tonight’s game)
Coming into the game, I just wanted to focus on doing my job and go out there and play and do what I needed to do. That’s how I’ve tried to attack it. (Tonight) I went out there and, like always, there were things that I felt I could’ve done better, or things that I feel I could’ve seen better and played faster. Overall, I thought it went okay, but I’d like to clean it up a little bit more.
Matt Gutierrez, Quarterback
(On the end of preseason)
We’ve gone out and worked really hard. Now it’s up to the coaches and the decision makers to do their jobs. I feel confident that I’ve been working as hard as I could to improve and show my abilities.
(On his preseason performance)
I’m never pleased. There are always things to work on….especially in the stage that I’m at as a rookie. I think that I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been here and I enjoyed the opportunity to improve while I was here.
(On playing on the kickoff team)
I had an idea that I might get an opportunity. Any opportunity to get on the field is valuable. It’s a chance to help contribute to the team. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to make a play but it was fun to run down.
(On throwing a touchdown pass)
That was exciting. The line held up great. It felt like I was standing back there for quite a while. The guys did a great job on their routes and it all worked out.
Vinny Testaverde, Quarterback
(On playing the first game on the road against the Jets)
I’m just excited for the fact that I’m still in a uniform and still playing here with the Patriots.
(On how it felt playing Thursday night)
It felt pretty good. I felt I moved the ball down the field pretty well and read the coverage. I would like to have scored once, but overall I feel like if I had to come in and play this year, that I could do that.
(On whether or not playing now is less fun than in the past)
Not at all. Last game, I went in for three plays, but it was like I was going out there for the first time. You get the butterflies and you get excited to be out there. It’s such a great feeling. That’s why I keep doing it.
C.J. Jones, Wide Receiver
(On waiting to see if he makes the team)
I have been through it a couple of times, I just keep my mind off of it and pray about it and hope that I have enough film so other teams can look at [me] in case this is not the team for me.
(On receiving a pass from Vinny Testaverde)
Vinny was doing a good job finding me in the holes and I just had to be there when he called upon me and I am thankful for that and it was cool being out there with him like that.
(On playing in the game)
It was great to get the opportunity out there. Coach Belichick gave me the chance and I just tried to make the best out of it.
(On how he thought he did with the opportunity)
I was just trying to help the team any way I can.
Bam Childress, Wide Receiver
(On what was it like to play tailback)
It was a little different, but it was just going out there and reading my blocks and just hitting up in there wherever I see a crease or see a hole I just hit it and let my instincts take over. I was just glad to do something new and show that I can do it
(On how he felt he did in training camp)
I think I did good, but you can always get better and there are things you can work on to get better No one out there is perfect but I think that I did pretty good. It is just now getting better everyday. Now I will just go in and watch film tomorrow and see what I did wrong and just correct it.
Here’s the complete transcript of Bill Belichick’s Q&A with the media after tonight’s game:
BB: We got a look at a lot of our young players tonight. They got a lot of extensive playing time. I really respect the way they played. I thought they competed well. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was certainly competitive. I thought we had a lot of guys play well. I think it will be interesting to look at the film here tomorrow morning to see how some things came together. The Giants have a good football team. We saw some competition against some of their better players. It will be interesting to see how all of that looks tomorrow. I respect the job that they did tonight. I thought overall we played a fairly solid game.
Q: Can we take the way you played your personnel to mean that you are pretty happy with where your starters are?
BB: I wouldn’t say that. I said last week, those guys that played a lot in the Carolina game, or that have played a lot through the course of the preseason, were going to play less tonight. The guys who didn’t play as much in that game played more tonight. That’s really the way we broke it up.
Q: With [Brandon] Meriweather at safety, are you at the point where you can add to his plate and take advantage of his versatility?
BB: He’s worked there some all of camp. He’s worked at safety. He’s worked at the nickel back. He’s worked at corner. He’s gotten good exposure on our secondary and also in the kicking game. He’s gotten a lot of reps at different spots through the course of camp.
Q: Do you envision him doing more work at safety than he has to this point?
BB: We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see.
Q: Were you encouraged with what you saw out there tonight from him?
BB: We’ll take a look at the tape. I thought there were some good things. There were a couple of plays that looked like he might have been a little out of position on, but I think that’s true of everybody. I thought he did some good things. He made a nice play on that in-cut on the second series, or whenever it was. We’ll take a look at the whole body of work rather than just try to go on one or two plays.
Q: Any impressions of [Chris] Hanson’s effort tonight?
BB: I thought it was okay. I thought it was okay. I’ve seen a lot worse, put it that way.
Q: What went into that decision to bring him in?
BB: To try to improve our team. That’s what goes into every decision.
Q: What was it about him you thought was an upgrade?
BB: I thought he had a chance to compete with the performance that we’ve had through the first three games.
Q: Was it tough to see a kid who has worked as hard as Oscar Lua has go down like that?
BB: Sure. We’ll see what the story is on that. I don’t know exactly what the extent of it is. But, yes, you hate to see anybody get injured.
Q: Does that complicate roster moves when somebody gets injured tonight and you only have two days to evaluate the severity?
BB: Yes, that never makes it any easier. You’d like to have as much information [as you can]. You’d like for it to be as clean as possible and when there is a degree of uncertainty and you have to make a guesstimate and just go on partial information, then that’s what you have to do. That’s certainly not the ideal situation. You’d like for it to be more complete.
Q: Were you happy to see some of the kids that you had in there to begin with go up against the Giants’ starters for a series?
BB: Yes. I thought it was good because we really played the same group of people the entire game and it was against different players with the Giants. That will be part of the evaluation too, to see how they played against some of those guys in the first quarter. They had some good players in there. They have a good team.
Q: Vinny [Testaverde] looked like he had a nice touch.
BB: I thought all three quarterbacks did a pretty solid job of running the operation. The Giants came with a decent amount of pressure. They changed some looks up. I thought all three guys did a decent job. We got the ball down the field a little bit. Some plays were better than others, but I thought we handled ourselves okay at the quarterback position.
Q: Was there a certain thing that goes into dressing players but not playing them? Is there something that you want them to get out of the whole thing?
BB: The only players who didn’t dress were the ones that had an injury situation.
Q: But if you’re not going to play a guy, is there a reason why you dress them?
BB: Yes, to go through the regular process. Part of our preparation in the preseason is to get ready for the regular season and that’s mentally going through situations. Nobody has played a full game. Whenever the players aren’t in there, they should be attentive to the situation and be into the game just like they’re going to in a regular season game. Nobody has played in every play in preseason. That goes for everybody.
Here’s some postgame Q&A with fullback Heath Evans, quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Pierre Woods. We’ll have more postgame Q&A shortly:
On the depth at quarterback…
I love those guys. Matt’s a goofball, Vinny’s done it for 20 years, so I think we’re in a good spot.
Is it tough to get a tempo going on a night when you’re looking at so many backups?
Not a tempo. I think the guys did well. There were some good holes for me up there tonight. If Laurence or Sammy or Kevin were to have some of those, it might have been even bigger plays. They did a good job tonight. Tempo, I don’t think was an issue. We started slow, but we got it together, considering what we were trying to do and who was out there.
Did you expect to get as many reps as you did this preseason?
I don’t think it was a shock. I think there’s a lot that’s asked of me, and I need those reps to be able to perform at a high level when those things are asked. So whether it’s running the ball or carrying the ball or blocking or special teams, I need those reps, because every week it’s different.
Is it a little strange in the huddle sometimes seeing so many faces?
No, sometimes you try and get the guys excited and I was trying to get excited myself. It’s hard to say you’re not looking forward to the Jets, but this was a necessary evil to perform better and to take further steps to get this offense better. So it is what it is. It’s the fourth preseason game.
Do you guys feel like you’re more ready for the regular season, moreso than one, two or three weeks ago?
Me, I’m ready to play the Jets. We’ll get better this week — I’ll get better this week. But we’re ready for the regular-season to start.
Did any of these guys lose anything by not playing in this game tonight?
Obviously, not according to Coach Belichick, whose opinion I side with. His record speaks for itself, so I wouldn’t question anything he does.
On his performance…
It’s always important — the more reps I can get against a No. 1 defense, and go out there and execute and see game speed and see the blitzes and see the coverages, it’s always very important for me. In terms of that, it was a great night, just going out and seeing those reps against a No. 1 offense. But it’s hard to assess right now how I played.
You put some points on the board…
I’m happy about that, because the main thing for an offense is to put some points on the board, and we were able to accomplish that tonight. In conclusion, it turned out to be a victory, so that was good.
Are you where you want to be right now with the preseason in the rearview mirror?
You always strive to be the best you can be, and with the reps that I had in preseason, I feel like I’ve made tremendous strides from where I was from even last year, and going into the season, I feel comfortable with where I’m at in the offense. Looking forward, there are a lot of things I need to work on and get better at, and I’ll continue to do that.
Did you know after last week that you would play as much as you did tonight?
I did not know that until about midweek, when they really told us that we would get a little bit more playing time. I got excited. It gives you a little bit more of a boost when you know you’re going in there and you’re going to play.
How happy are you guys that the preseason is finally done?
It’s an exciting time. Everyone will be excited. It’s the season opener that’s coming up, so we just want to be as prepared as possible, and go out there and put in a good showing.
We’re you fighting for playing time tonight?
It was a big opportunity for all the guys who were out there tonight. I just need to take advantage of that opportunity, take advantage of it and not take anything for granted, so I went out there and tried to give it all I have. And we came out with a win, so it’s definitely a good feeling.
You guys were getting some good opportunities out there tonight against the Giants No. 1 offense. How do you feel you guys did?
I think we held up. It took them awhile to even score on the goal line. We held up, and everybody played hard. Everybody gave it their all, so all we can do is be proud of what we did.
Did you know you were going to play as much as you did?
We didn’t know anything. We just came in with the same game plan as everybody else, and we just went out there and tried to execute the game plan.
On his status this year as compared to last year…
This is not an easy system, an easy defense. But what a difference a year makes. You just continue to work, continue to try and get better and learn each day.
•The Patriots and Giants just announced the final stats for starting QBs Matt Cassel (10-for-14, 99 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) and Eli Manning (5-for-8, 58 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs). Our favorite backup Jared Lorenzen–only because he looks like an offensive lineman–is currently at the helm for the Giants.
•The loudest cheer of the night just went up when it was announced that Vinny Testaverde would be entering the game–not sure if it was a comment of Cassel’s play, or a sign of how much people love Vinny. I’m thinking the latter.
•As I mentioned on another message thread, a press box neighbor swore that Tedy Bruschi was wearing sneakers. Turned out it was true–during the coin flip, he was showing the Giants, and both sets of captains were having a good laugh over it.
The Patriots have just announced that linebacker Oscar Lua has suffered a leg injury, and he will not return.
Here’s how the starting lineups broke down for the Patriots in tonight’s preseason finale against the Giants.
DEFENSE: (in no particular order) Willie Andrews, Tory James, Brandon Meriweather, Dante Wesley, Oscar Lua, Eric Alexander, Pierre Woods, Zach West, Le Kevin Smith, Santonio Thomas, Chad Brown.
OFFENSE: Heath Evans, Garrett Mills, C.J. Jones, Kelvin Kight, Marcellus Rivers, Matt Cassel, Ryan O’Callaghan, Gene Mruczkowski, Mike Elgin, Billy Yates, Wesley Britt.