As if they needed reinforcements, the undefeated New England Patriots have bolstered their league-leading defense by activating strong safety Rodney Harrison from the NFL roster-exempt list for Sunday's game with the Cleveland Browns.
The 14th-year veteran was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for his admissions that he purchased and used HGH, which is on the league's list of banned substances. Harrison, 34, returned to practice this week but did not immediately count against the New England roster because of the exemption.
Harrison saw his first action of the
season on Cleveland's first possession. He entered the game on Cleveland's fifth play from scrimmage.
Third-year veteran James Sanders has started the first four games at strong safety and played well.
To create a roster spot for Harrison, the Pats released tight end Marcellus Rivers for the third time in the past six weeks. Rivers, who re-signed this week, is likely to rejoin the team again next week, after New England gets through Sunday's game.
Because of injuries, Harrison, long regarded as one of the NFL's most physical players at safety, has appeared in only 13 games the past two seasons. But his value to the secondary, not just as a player but a leader, is obvious, and he is held in high regard by head coach Bill Belichick and the New England staff.
Harrison was suspended on Aug. 29 and forfeited $470,588 of his scheduled $2 million base salary for 2007. He acknowledged, in a conference call with reporters, that he used the HGH to accelerate the healing process from a knee injury that limited him to 10 games in 2006.
For his career, Harrison has appeared in 168 games and has 1,078 tackles, 28½ sacks and 32 interceptions.
The Patriots' opponent on Sunday, the Browns, also activated offensive tackle Ryan Tucker from the roster exempt list.
An 11th-year veteran, Tucker was suspended for the first four games for a violation of the NFL's steroids and related substances policy. Tucker missed the second half of last season for an undisclosed mental illness.
Tucker, 32, was projected as the Browns' starting right tackle, and the suspension forced Cleveland to shuffle the unit. Left tackle Kevin Shaffer moved to the right side and first-round pick Joe Thomas, the third player selected in this year's draft, then moved into the lineup at left tackle.
It isn't likely that Tucker, whose career includes 93 starts, will immediately regain his starting spot, but his return to the roster certainly provides the Browns excellent depth. The team released fourth-year offensive tackle Kelly Butler.
Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.