Patriots trying to increase defensive speed

Slowly but surely Bill Belichick has worked to make his defense younger and quicker while maintaining success.

He took another step in that direction last week when he released 35-year-old veteran defensive tackle Keith Traylor.

Traylor, 6-2, 340 pounds, started 10 regular season games and two of three playoff games for New England last season and recorded 33 regular season tackles and two playoff stops while tutoring rookie Vince Wilfork inside.

But heading into training camp, the defensive line is the Patriots' deepest position. With second-year man Marquise Hill looking for playing time, Rodney Bailey returning from injured reserve and nose tackle Ethan Kelley looking to prove he belongs, the Patriots already have some new faces trying to earn time along with regulars Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Jarvis Green and Wilfork.

Wilfork started six games on the nose in the Patriots' 3-4 base defense in 2004 and was outperforming Traylor by season's end. The rookie out of Miami finished the season with 57 tackles and two sacks while adjusting to the Pats two-gap system.

Wilfork figured to pass Traylor on the depth chart for 2005 anyway, but Traylor's release opens the door for Kelley to make his mark. The 2003 seventh round draft pick out of Baylor spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was inactive for 15 of 16 games last season while occupying a spot on the 53-man roster. He played in the season finale against the 49ers and had one tackle. This will be a big summer for the third year lineman.

By releasing the 13-year veteran, the Patriots saved almost $800,000 against the 2005 salary cap. Traylor would have counted just more than $1 million against the cap, but will now cost the Pats about $238,000 in dead money.

Traylor fell victim to Father Time with the team electing to go with younger players up front. It also couldn't have helped Traylor's cause that he was not a participant in the Pats voluntary offseason program and the team is unable to monitor his conditioning.

During preparation for Super Bowl XXXIX, Traylor spoke about possibly retiring after the game, but backtracked in the wake of the championship and spoke about enjoying his season in New England and his hopes for returning to play the last year of his contract. Now he will look to hook on elsewhere, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him land in Cleveland where he would help tutor Romeo Crennel's 3-4 defense in Cleveland.


-- Doug Flutie's legend is biggest in New England. The Natick, Mass., native won a Heisman Trophy at Boston College and has been a local hero ever since even though he has never truly excelled in the NFL beyond a couple relatively short, successful stints. But when Flutie signed with New England, he did so knowing that there was no way he would compete for a starting job. Another local hero, Tom Brady, has that position pretty well secured after three Super Bowl titles.

Flutie, 42, might just be the perfect relief man if Brady were to go down short term as he did back in the 2001 AFC Championship Game when Drew Bledsoe capably replaced him. Flutie acknowledged that the relief role might be the one for which he is best suited at this point in his career.

"I think, although I've had success as a starter at times, I really believe that my best role is coming off the bench. I really have had success in games where I've come off the bench to relieve a guy that's either struggled or got banged up. It's a good change of pace for the other team, especially without the opportunity to game plan. I look forward to that role."

In New England, though, Flutie will not get an opportunity to replace a struggling quarterback. Not that Brady is incapable of struggling, but he has earned immunity from being benched in such situations. The only way Flutie will get on the field for the Pats is if he surpasses Rohan Davey as the No. 2 quarterback and Brady gets injured.

-- The Patriots' offensive line is adjusting to life without its leader. Joe Andruzzi was that guy both on and off the field. He organized off-field get togethers that brought that group closer.

"Those won't stop by any means," center Dan Koppen said. "We just have to designate whose house to go to and who's buying all the food."

He nominated left tackle Matt Light, who recently signed a lucrative contract extension, for the food-buying role, although it could fall to first round pick Logan Mankins, who will get a hefty signing bonus.

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