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Bonus time: Seymour is at practice

FOXBOROUGH -- The imposing man with the size-17 shoe stood on the playing field at Gillette Stadium, folded his bulging arms across his blue practice jersey, and talked about something that makes him tick.

Being the best.

Richard Seymour is entering his sixth NFL season, and some say the Patriots' defensive lineman has already reached the summit. He's been selected to four Pro Bowls, is a three-time All-Pro, and has been part of three Super Bowl championship teams. This offseason, he signed a lucrative contract extension that includes $24 million in bonuses.

It's a stunning résumé for someone who doesn't turn 27 until October, accomplishments that might lead one to wonder: What's next? But not Seymour. The defensive captain with the quiet off-field persona and punishing on-field style is always chasing what's next, because what motivates him is something that can only be earned over time.

Seymour, who participated in a walk-through portion of practice yesterday, his first appearance on the field at training camp, said he's been held back from the team's first 12 practices because of a tight quadriceps, but said he could play if a game were scheduled this week.

And, by the way, he wants to be remembered as one of the NFL's best defensive linemen.

``I think that's something I thrive on," Seymour said yesterday. ``I don't want to be complacent. I've accomplished a lot and all that is a blessing. At the same time, there is a lot that I haven't done. I think my best football is still ahead of me."

Seymour is hitting the prime years of his career, the stretch that NFL personnel executives covet with players of his stature, especially at his position. The proof is in the checkbook.

In 2004, the Eagles handed game-changing defensive end Jevon Kearse a $12 million signing bonus as he was entering his sixth season. This year, the Falcons traded for the talented John Abraham, giving him a $12.5 million signing bonus as he enters his seventh season. And the Texans stunned many in the NFL by selecting defensive lineman Mario Williams -- not running back Reggie Bush -- with the first pick in the draft.

For prime talent on the defensive line, the price is high. Now Seymour tops the list.

His contract extension, which averages $9.33 million per season, makes him the highest-paid veteran defensive end in the game. Miami's Jason Taylor ($8.6 million), Abraham ($8.3 million), Kearse ($7.8 million), Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice ($7.7 million), and Atlanta's Patrick Kerney ($7.5 million) fall next in line.

As coach Bill Belichick said yesterday, ``I don't think you see the Richard Seymours come along every day."

Yet, sometimes Seymour isn't mentioned as one of the premier players at his position. The Sporting News ranked him fourth among defensive ends in a recently published scouting guide, trailing the Colts' Dwight Freeney, the Giants' Michael Strahan, and the Panthers' Julius Peppers. In the same publication in 2005, Seymour was ranked seventh.

Seymour has spoken in the past about how linemen are asked to do different things on different teams. The comparison with Freeney, primarily a speed rusher who had 11 sacks in 2005, came up yesterday.

``It's just different roles, I'm not asked to do that," said Seymour, who notched four sacks last season. ``Sometimes is it frustrating? Would I want to go out and do some different things? Of course.

``But, at the same time, I look at the big picture. Have [the Colts] ended up in the Super Bowl? No. So I'll take the things we've been able to do, the team's success, over my individual success."

What Seymour is asked to do varies from game to game, from controlling blockers to shooting gaps to drawing double- and triple-teams. What makes him special, according to Belichick, is that he can execute so many tasks well.

``He's got good physical skill, he's smart, he's versatile, he can play with power, he has quickness, he can play the run, he can rush the passer, he pursues well, he can play the point of attack, he's a smart player that can play different positions, he has the physical talent to play different positions, he can play outside, he can play inside, he can two-gap, he can stunt," said Belichick.

Seymour noted yesterday he has not been named the league's defensive player of the month, or defensive player of the year, for that matter. They are awards he's seeking, and feels he's in position to vie for them ``under a defensive-minded coach who is pushing me, and knows how to push the right buttons to get the team going."

Seymour has a good vibe from what he's seen.

``I think we have a good core group of guys and we're adding some new pieces," he said. ``We have some solid, good rookies. It remains to be seen what they can do, but I think they have the right attitude, they're coming in, they're working and listening. And I think some of our second- and third-year guys have made huge progress in the offseason. So I look for big things from this football team, but there's a lot of work to be done."

As for where he rates among his fellow NFL defensive linemen, Seymour was asked whose opinion matters most to him.

``Ultimately, I think I'm pretty tough on myself," he said. ``I look at a lot of the other guys around the National Football League and I don't like to compare myself to a lot of guys, but that's kind of how you get your numbers, how they rate you as a defensive lineman.

``I just feel that I want to be the best I can be, not only with the guys I'm playing with now, but also with the guys that came before me, and the guys that might come after me. I just want to leave a mark on the game."

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