FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – Three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour skipped the opening practice of New England’s training camp on Friday, starting what could be a lengthy holdout.

Seymour’s absence would further erode the core of the Patriots’ defense.

A day earlier, veteran linebacker Ted Johnson unexpectedly announced his retirement, citing a series of concussions and fear of long-term damage. And last week, Tedy Bruschi said he would sit out the entire 2005 season while he recovers from a mild stroke, leaving New England without either of its starting inside linebackers from last year’s championship team. Seymour, who wants to re-negotiate a contract that has two years remaining, also did not report to the team’s June minicamp.

Coach Bill Belichick said after Friday’s practice that he was “just concentrating on the people that are here. Coach the guys that are here.”

Seymour’s teammates didn’t pass judgment but said they want with the team.

“We love Seymour,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “We miss him. We support him.”

Quarterback Tom Brady said, “Richard’s a great person. He’s a great teammate. Hopefully, he’s here (soon). I can’t control it, so I’m just going to go out there and worry about playing quarterback.”

Linebacker Mike Vrabel also refrained from taking a position on Seymour’s holdout.

“I don’t really have any thoughts on Richard,” he said. “I can only comment on the people that are out here right now practicing”

Drafted sixth overall in 2001 by the Patriots out of Georgia, Seymour was named to the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons. He missed the last game of the regular season and the AFC playoffs last year with a knee injury, but returned for the Super Bowl, logging two tackles, including a sack of Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb. Seymour signed his six-year, $14.3 million deal in 2001, his rookie year.

Although holdouts are common in the NFL, the Patriots have largely been spared in recent years. Several high-profile players have signed below-market deals to remain with the team, including Bruschi and Brady.

AP-ES-07-29-05 1414EDT

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