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HARRISON CATCHES BALLS AND FOILS COLTS' FIRST-ROUND DRAFT JINX

Expecting too much from first-round draft picks has been hazardous to the psyche of Indianapolis Colts fans.

They remember quarterback Jeff George, the No. 1 overall pick in 1990. And defensive tackle Steve Emtman, the No. 1 overall pick in '92. And linebacker Trev Alberts, the fifth pick in '94.

Pre-draft expectations were replaced by the realism of aspirations gone awry. George is throwing spirals for Oakland, but only after a tumultuous stint in Atlanta. Emtman and Alberts are no longer in the NFL, thanks to injuries.

Marvin Harrison -- knock on wood -- has been a pleasant break in that trend of first-round misadventures.

He has remained healthy. He has been productive. He has met expectations.

One of five wide receivers selected in the first round of the 1996 draft, Harrison made an immediate impact with the Colts. He became just the third rookie to lead the team in receiving -- the first in 14 years -- when he finished the year with 64 catches that produced 836 yards and eight touchdowns.

"I don't think there is any question Marvin was everything we expected him to be," said Colts receivers coach Jimmy Robinson during preseason. "(In 1997) we want to see him take it to another level, even though the level he was at was pretty darned good.

"We'd like to see him in the hunt for the Pro Bowl. We think he has that type of ability."

It's debatable if Harrison ever will post Pro Bowl-type numbers in a Colts' offense that insists on spreading the ball around. But if 90-catch seasons are unrealistic, impact seasons are not.

Not preoccupied with sheer numbers, Harrison, the 19th pick a year ago, is more concerned with making a difference. His encore season has been an extension of his rookie season. Heading into Monday night's game with Buffalo, Harrison again leads the Colts in receptions (26), yardage (278) and TD catches (2).

Only the team's inconsistencies on offense have kept his numbers from being more impressive. Yet when quarterback Jim Harbaugh has needed a go-to guy, he has generally looked in the direction of Harrison. Of Harrison's 26 receptions, 14 have produced first downs.

"I don't know if I'm the go-to-guy here, but I know I am a go-to guy. I've always been that," said Harrison, who owns the Syracuse record for career receiving yards (2,718) and ranks second to Rob Moore in TDs (20). "Every opportunity I get I want to capitalize on, whether it's early in a game, late in the fourth quarter or on third down.

"I feel I'm a guy who can make a difference."

Not satisfied with his solid rookie season, Harrison entered 1997 intent on picking his game up a notch. His goals, though, were not necessarily numbers-driven.

"I wanted to come out this year and improve on the mistakes I made last year," he said. "You always want to try to do better than you did the year before.

"I wanted to come out and do everything better -- route running, recognizing a defense and coverages downfield, blocking downfield." To this point, his goals have been achieved.

"I don't think there is any question I'm better now," said Harrison, who has caught at least one pass in each of his 22 appearances. "I felt confident last year, but now I'm much more comfortable with things. I have a better grasp on the whole game."

Harrison is not taking a back seat to any of his '96 "classmates."

Of the four other wide receivers selected in the first round, only New England's Terry Glenn, the seventh player drafted, has been more productive, with 99 receptions, 1,283 yards and 7 TDs.

Keyshawn Johnson, selection No. 1 overall by the New York Jets, has 88 receptions for 1,201 yards and 11 TDs, St. Louis' Eddie Kennison (No. 18) has 64 catches for 1,069 yards and 9 TDs and Buffalo's Eric Moulds (No. 24) has 25 catches for 330 yards and 2 TDs.

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