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Patriots' Seymour making the leap

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- From near and far, the words of praise are pouring in
for Patriots 24-year-old defensive tackle Richard Seymour.
From near: "He is definitely one of our better players," said Patriots head
coach Bill Belichick. "And one of the better defensive linemen in the
league."

From far: "He's one of the league's up-and-coming superstars in the defensive
line," Browns head coach Butch Davis said before Seymour was credited with
four tackles and a ½ sack while often drawing a double team in the
Patriots' 9-3 win over the Browns Oct. 26.

"He's playing as well as he's ever played," said Dolphins head coach Dave
Wannstedt prior to his team's game with the Patriots Oct. 19. "He's rushing
the passer, stopping the run, deflecting passes. He's becoming a complete
player. He's doing everything well as opposed to a young guy (who may be
solid in one specific area). He's taken a step forward to do everything
well."

Wannstedt neglected to mention that Seymour also is deflecting field goals
and stopping normally reliable special teams. Seymour's block of kicker Olindo
Mare's potential game-winning, 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter
of the Patriots-Dolphins meeting paved the way for the 19-13 overtime win in
last month's AFC East showdown. That effort earned Seymour AFC Special Teams
Player of the Week honors in a game in which he made yet another statement
defensively with seven tackles and one pass defensed.

For his part, Seymour, who day in and day out is one of the more accessible
players in the Patriots' locker room, treats his personal success with a
shrug of the shoulders, an embarrassed smile, and the "Aw, shucks" retort
you might expect from a lad who grew up often awakening at 6 a.m. to work
with his dad, a licensed contractor.

"I don't really like to talk about myself a whole lot," he says.

That's all right.

There are plenty of others in the Patriots' locker room who'll do it for him.

"Richard has an ability to play in every phase of the game, play on all
downs, play in all situations," said Belichick. "He can play the run, (in)
short yardage, he can rush the passer, he has some power and some quickness
on his pass rush, he's a pretty good pursuit player for a lineman and can
make some plays on the perimeter of the field.

"Overall, I think he has a lot of strengths, and there are a lot of different
ways for him to contribute to our defense. That's a big positive for us."

How big a positive can the 6-6, 310-pound Seymour, who is in only his third
year since the Patriots made him the sixth overall choice in the 2001 draft,
become?

Defensive end Bobby Hamilton, who often finds himself alongside Seymour on the Patriots'
line and occupies a locker stall near him in the team's home locker room,
has begun to whisper in Seymour's ear.

"I've told him over and over, 'It's up to you (how good you can be),' " said
Hamilton. "He's got all the skills and ability."

Including the skills and ability to line up at end or tackle, depending upon
the game's situation and whether the Patriots are employing a 4-3 or a 3-4
front.

The Patriots got a glimpse of what life without Seymour would be like in
their 30-26 Monday-night victory at Denver Nov. 3. Seymour was at home
nursing a leg injury -- not expected to sideline him when the Pats return to
action in a Sunday-night game against Dallas this week -- and the team went
with a 3-4 most of the way but couldn't find a nose tackle capable of
plugging the middle. Rookies Dan Klecko and Ty Warren and veteran Rick Lyle
took turns in that role, with Hamilton and Jarvis Green the starting ends.

At the end of the night, Broncos running back Clinton Portis had carried 26 times for
111 yards, giving him the distinction of being the first back to rush for
100 yards against New England in 12 games.

Seymour's versatility is just another plus for a player who has done nothing
but progress during his brief NFL career -- coming out of Georgia and
starting for the Super Bowl champions as a rookie in '01, earning his first
Pro Bowl berth in '02 and performing at an even higher level this season.

"I try to wipe the slate clean," said Seymour. "Until I get to that level
where I'm considered the best or where I feel like I'm the best, then I'm
going to continue to work. And when I get there, I have to continue to work
because everybody's still going to be coming at me."

Seymour's reputation is such that opponents often run away from him. And then
there's those double teams. Still, Seymour was on pace to finish the year
with 76 tackles, seven passes defensed and six sacks, all of which would be
career highs.

"He continues to get better and better," said left tackle Matt Light, the
second-round pick from that same draft class that yielded Seymour. "There
aren't a whole lot of things you can stop Richard from doing."

Glen Farley covers the Patriots for the Brockton (Mass.) Enterprise.

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