Inside Skinny: Traylor Takes Over for Washington

He is no Ted Washington, but 340-pound defensive tackle Keith Traylor will try to fill those hefty shoes as the Patriots nose tackle next season.

Washington, who weighs in at about 370, was instrumental in the Patriots improved run defense last season that went from allowing 137.4 yards per game in 2002 to 89.6 in 2003. But he left for Oakland on the first day of free agency, and left the Patriots searching for a big body to plug into the middle of the defense. That body came in the form of Washington's former teammate with the Bears.

Traylor, who moves well for a big man, won't require the attention that Washington did in the middle of the defense and isn't as disruptive as Washington, who played one season for the Patriots before leaving for more money.

"I don't know if anyone will be able to completely do the things Ted Washington did," Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli told Boston sports radio station, WEEI. "He's a great player and he did a great job. Keith is going to come in and play that position and hopefully be able to do it at a high level."

Traylor is a 13-year veteran who has never played nose tackle, which is a vital spot in the middle of the Patriots' 3-4 defense, but the Belichick feels like he can handle the chore.

"I think you can see through his career at different times elements of the techniques that we would ask him to play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said shortly after Traylor visited the club.

One concern, besides Traylor's inexperience at the position, is his health. He missed six games with a bad knee last year, although he has been mostly durable throughout his career. He has started 107 of 171 career game sand has 427 tackles and 13 sacks, including 18 tackles last season. Before 2003, he had started at least 14 games every season since 1997.

Originally drafted as a linebacker by the Broncos back in 1991 out of Central State, he moved to defensive line in 1995 while playing for the Chiefs. He returned to Denver in 1997 where he helped the Broncos win a pair of Super Bowls before moving to Chicago in 2001.

Traylor is the Patriots' third free agent signing this offseason following the additions of defensive lineman Rodney Bailey and punter Josh Miller.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES:
Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli was honored at the recent owners' meeting as the 2003 NFL Executive of the Year.

The Sporting News annually polls NFL executives for the honor, and Pioli received 29 of the 60 votes to become the 34th recipient of the award.

"This award is a direct reflection of the trust and support given by Robert and Jonathan Kraft," Pioli said. "I am very grateful for that. They have been tremendously supportive. The award is also a by-product of great teamwork within our organization, starting with Bill Belichick and including our assistant coaches, our players and our entire scouting staff. To be mentioned in the same group of past winners such as Bill Polian, George Young, Ron Wolf, Al Davis and Paul Brown is very humbling."

Pioli, 39, is the youngest executive to ever win the award and certainly had to be a candidate for it two years ago as well.

The Patriots overcame several injuries to starters last year to win 15 straight games, including Super Bowl XXXVIII. In fact, the team used 42 different starters throughout the season and never missed a beat.

In addition the contributions made by veteran newcomers Tyrone Poole, Rodney Harrison and Ted Washington, the Patriots received significant help from rookies Eugene Wilson, Ty Warren, Bethel Johnson, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen and Dan Klecko.

Belichick was the NFL Coach of the Year while defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Just because a guy has a high Wonderlic test doesn't mean he makes good decisions. How many 300-pound offensive linemen go out and play like they're 270 pounds? They don't have functional strength. There are guys that are bench press strong, but aren't functionally strong because they don't understand leverage. So we're looking for guys who are functionally big, functionally fast, functionally strong and functionally smart. It's all within the context of football." -- Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli on the qualities he looks for in a draft pick

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Patriots have added a 24-year-old defensive lineman and a 34-year-old defensive lineman. Rodney Bailey, 24, will play end while Keith Traylor, 34, will play nose tackle. Despite those two signings, the Patriots will still enter draft weekend looking to land a long-term solution for the nose tackle spot since the aging Traylor is likely a quick fix. Hawaii's 320-pound defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who has a high upside, visited Foxborough and is projected to be a late-second round, early third round pick, meaning the Patriots could have a chance to land him with the 63rd selection. New England is unlikely to use one of its two first round picks on a defensive tackle since the top three available - Miami's Vince Wilfork, Oklahoma's Tommie Harris and Maryland's Randy Starks should all be off the board when New England selects. Of those three, Wilfork and Starks would be best suited to play on the nose in a 3-4. If the Patriots could land a young, capable anchor for the middle of the line, they would set themselves up with a formidable front that already includes youngsters Bailey, Richard Seymour, 24, Jarvis Green, 25, Ty Warren, 23, Dan Klecko, 23, and possibly even project Ethan Kelley, 24, for the foreseeable future. NFL teams are allowed to bring 20 draft prospects in for visits and while Sopoaga is one of the 20, the team also reportedly brought in offensive players Justin Smiley, a guard from Alabama, and has scheduled an April 13 visit with Virginia Tech running back Kevin Jones.

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES: >BR> OL - The Patriots lost Damien Woody and have not re-signed veteran Mike Compton, who reportedly visited the Jaguars last week. Russ Hochstein is back in the fold, but New England is very thin up front and could use a first day pick on a lineman. Boston College guard Chris Snee could be that candidate.

S - The Patriots would like to move Eugene Wilson back to corner, but Rodney Harrison is the only other proven safety on the roster. When he and Wilson left the Super Bowl with injuries, undrafted rookie Shawn Mayer and veteran special teamer Chris Akins, now a Dolphin, stepped in. Wilson would remain at safety only out of necessity even though he played well there last season. While Harrison is the team's strong safety and plays well near the line of scrimmage, the team would just as readily sign another strong safety as it would more of a true free safety. Before Lawyer Milloy's release last year, Bill Belichick intended to play split safeties where both players assumed the same responsibilities on his own half of the field. When Wilson stepped in, he played free safety to Harrison's strong.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (11):
TE Fred Baxter
FB Larry Centers
DE Bobby Hamilton
S Antwan Harris
QB Damon Huard
LS Brian Kinchen
DT Rick Lyle
DE Anthony Pleasant
RB Antowain Smith
P Ken Walter
WR Dedric Ward

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
None

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: (1)
RB Mike Cloud (Signed)

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:(5)
OT Tom Ashworth
OG Wilbert Brown
WR David Givens
S Shawn Mayer
OG Steve Neal

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED:(6)
S Je'Rod Cherry
LB Don Davis
RB Kevin Faulk
OG Russ Hochstein
FB Patrick Pass
WR J.J. Stokes PLAYERS ACQUIRED:(3)
DE Rodney Bailey
P Josh Miller
DT Keith Traylor

PLAYERS LOST: (4)
S Chris Akins
OG Mike Compton
DT Ted Washington
OG Damien Woody MEDICAL WATCH: >BR> Quarterback Tom Brady, who underwent a shoulder procedure after the season, is back in town for the team's offseason program and will be ready to start throwing in time for the team's May passing camps.

That's good news for Brady, who has suffered through shoulder pain since the 2002 season finale; Safety Rodney Harrison is not back in town and won't be a regular participant in the offseason program, but will check in periodically to be examined by team doctors. He should be ready to go by the team's mandatory June minicamp.

Long snapper Lonie Paxton, who had knee surgery, could be ready for the start of training camp in July, but could be later than that; The unknown is linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, who hopes to be ready to play by training camp, but given the severity of his hip injury, is no lock to ever play again.

Safety Eugene Wilson is still recovering from the groin injury he suffered in Super Bowl XXXVIII and will be limited as the offseason program begins.


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