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Sanders a strong fill-in at safety for Pats

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Sanders a strong fill-in at safety

By Daniel Malloy, Globe Correspondent | September 8, 2007

FOXBOROUGH - With Rodney Harrison suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, safety James Sanders will be thrust into the spotlight again.

Last year, Sanders started five regular-season and all three playoff contests when Harrison was injured. Now instead of an untested replacement, the Patriots have a solid performer at strong safety.

"Last year, I got a lot of playing experience," said Sanders, a fourth-round pick out of Fresno State in 2005. "Now I'm a vet. I've gotten a lot of playing time. Now it's like second nature, just going out there and doing what the team asked me to do."

Coach Bill Belichick praised Sanders's improvement throughout the preseason, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs - who was in Sanders's draft class - said Sanders's physical skills have blossomed.

"He's always had the smarts," Hobbs said. "It's kind of opposite for both of us, where he was always talented with the mind and this and that, whereas my mental game was slower coming out as a rookie.

"I worked on my mental game and he's really worked on his hip flexibility, his turning skills, just his [defensive back] skills overall. That's his biggest improvement."

Sanders has come a long way since getting burned for a deep touchdown by the Broncos' Javon Walker last September, and he said one of the biggest things he learned last year was to put such plays behind him.

"I learned that there's going to be ups and downs," Sanders said. "I'm in a league with great players that are going to make plays, but I've also got to make plays and just try to play consistent. When something bad does happen, move on and focus on the next play."

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