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Holdout over, Seymour finally has a field day

FOXBOROUGH -- The bruise from his helmet on his left temple is a telltale sign that he may be back where he belongs, but it has been awhile.

Defensive end Richard Seymour returned to the Patriots' practice field yesterday afternoon, joining teammates at training camp for the first time this summer. Seymour said he was happy and thankful to again be a part of the team.

''It's definitely a blessing to be back," he said. ''It was a rough road, but I had the support of my teammates and also a lot of fans."

The three-time Pro Bowl selection, who agreed to a reworked contract Tuesday and is entering his fifth NFL season, said he would hold out again if he had to do it over, but he was pleased the negotiations never turned ugly.

''I believe if you do something, there's always a way to do it," he said. ''I think I'm a man of integrity and I try to do things the right way. I never want to talk bad about anybody or [talk down about] one of my teammates or the organization. That's just the way that I feel about it. That's just not in me to do."

Seymour's break from ranks was about as mild a contract dispute as one would see in the NFL. His desire to be among the highest-paid players at his position was tempered by the organization's offer to include a salary bump of about $1.2 million for this season.

The resulting $4 million in pay for 2005 is still below market value for a player with his accomplishments (the average of the top five salaries for defensive ends is $6.7 million), but enough to end the holdout.

''We found common ground," said Seymour, who has two seasons remaining on the contract he signed as a rookie.

For Seymour, the focus can now turn to football. He may be eight training camp workouts behind his teammates (he also skipped a minicamp in June), but he had no difficulty passing the required conditioning test -- two series of 10 40-yard dashes, each sprint completed in six seconds or less, with a 30-second break between each. Fellow lineman Ethan Kelley couldn't pass that test, and was released Monday.

To prepare himself for camp, Seymour tried the conditioning tests of other teams, choosing a different one each day to test his stamina. The most difficult one, he said, belonged to Cleveland, which is coached by former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

''I'm in pretty good shape, but I still have to get in football shape," said Seymour, who appeared to have participated in all the defensive linemen drills. ''That's a different thing. I definitely have to knock some rust off the old engine here and get it back rolling.

''I understand that if you want to be the best, you've got to come out and work. That's been my attitude from Day One. I think I'm a product of hard work. No one's going to give me anything."

Though this is his fifth training camp, Seymour didn't consider dilly-dallying at home in South Carolina to avoid the drudgery of the workouts. Though he had fun barbecuing and playing in the pool with his family, he wanted to get back to work.

Seymour brought up former NBA star Michael Jordan, who sat out a season while attempting a professional baseball career.

''When he came back he was rusty, had to kick off some of the dirt, and he didn't do that well," Seymour said. ''The following season he came back and won a championship.

''It doesn't matter how good of a football player you are or how talented you are, you still have to put in the work. That's what I'm willing to do. I wouldn't rather have any other job in the world than playing here and being a Patriot. It's a tough job, but to whom much is given, much is expected. Nothing's easy."

Seymour didn't face the issue of whether his teammates would welcome him back. Not one said he was upset with Seymour for missing the better part of a week of camp, and almost to a man, the Patriots said they understood he made a business decision.

The first person Seymour saw when he arrived at Gillette Stadium was safety Rodney Harrison, who hugged him and told him how happy he was to have him back.

''I really felt a genuine love from my teammate," Seymour said. ''That's what it's all about."

A few seconds later, Seymour stepped into a meeting of offensive linemen and jokingly warned them that he was back . . . with a bad attitude in tow.

''I told them I've been eating raw meat and gunpowder," Seymour said, laughing.

Seymour turned serious when talking about his future. With his salary for this season decided, he'd like to agree to a long-term contract with the Patriots. Otherwise, he would become a free agent after the 2006 season.

''It would be my goal one day, if possible, to retire a Patriot," he said. ''That's something that's important to me. It's not totally in my control, but hopefully we can get it done."

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