KIRKLAND, Wash. &

Chris Gray admits that when he went back home to Alabama this offseason he thought about retiring.

Yes, there was some appeal to the idea of not banging his head into opposing defensive linemen for eight months at a time, for the first time in 20 years, since before he began playing at Homewood High School in Birmingham, Ala.

Gray, whose Seattle record of 121 consecutive starts ended last December because of a leg injury, was 36. He had played 15 years in the NFL, most of those as a starter. He'll apparently be a starter in his 16th season too.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Tuesday that Gray will likely be starting at right guard, as usual, and Sean Locklear should be back at right tackle Sept. 9 when the three-time defending NFC West champions begin their season against Tampa Bay.

So much for the "competition" Holmgren had opened on the right side of the offensive line in the spring. That was after Gray signed for another season and $2.1 million, plus bonuses. Then Gray showed he was the same old Gray &

doing his job, steadily and without much fanfare, every day. "I challenged Sean at the beginning of training camp and he has responded well, in my opinion. And Chris Gray is solid as a rock at right guard," Holmgren said. "He's not playing his age. He is playing well.

"It's kind of settling into, right now, probably where we left off last year."

That would mean Locklear and Gray, with Chris Spencer at center, second-year veteran Rob Sims at left guard and perennial Pro Bowler Walter Jones at left tackle.

Jones missed another practice Tuesday, part of Holmgren's plan to give the 33-year-old rest this preseason to preserve him for the real games.

Gray, now 37, keeps churning. Every day since the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the fifth round out of Auburn in 1993.

His flat reaction minutes after Holmgren had essentially named him a starter yet again?

"Yeah."

"I came back because I thought we could be a really good team &

whether I started or contributed in whatever way," Gray said, walking across the players' parking lot outside team headquarters so he could make a short drive home to see his wife and two children before he had to be back for afternoon meetings.

"You know, I'd just kind of like to end it by winning it all, to go out on a high note."

Holmgren swinging the competition door open before camp was seen as partly a motivation for Locklear, a three-year starter and third-round draft pick from 2004 out of North Carolina State, to step up his game. Last season, he missed five games because of a sprained ankle and a sixth to league suspension for violating its personal conduct policy.

Locklear was arrested Jan. 15, 2006, and accused of assaulting his girlfriend outside a downtown Seattle nightspot. In July of last year, Locklear reached an agreement with prosecutors that avoided a trial. It requires him to perform community service for the next two years, undergo an evaluation and pay court costs.

Tuesday, Locklear joined Jones on the sidelines watching the end of the morning practice. Locklear had an electric stimulation machine wired to what he said was a bruised right knee. He said he might be back at practice Wednesday.

Holmgren opening jobs on the right side of the line was also seen as a test for Gray, to see if he still has it.

He does.

"Every year, at the end of the year, I kind of evaluate and see how I feel," said Gray, who once thought an NFL career of eight or nine years would be exceptional.

"And the past years, I've really felt good. So I've come back."

Notes:

Holmgren has Darryl Tapp, his second-round pick in 2006, in a starting competition at DE with veterans Patrick Kerney and Bryce Fisher. With Kerney having just signed a contract that guarantees him $19.5 million, Tapp is likely pushing for Fisher's job after getting two sacks in Sunday's exhibition opener at San Diego. "The three guys that are in the mix to start are Bryce and Kerney and Tapp. They're all capable," Holmgren said. "Tapp is the youngest, obviously, but he is a talented young guy ... you'll see more of him." ... Holmgren was so disgusted with a sloppy, lifeless morning practice, he had the entire team run 50-yard sprints at the end of the practice for the first time in years. Second-year WR Ben Obomanu said the last time he ran post-practice sprints as punishment was as a freshman at Auburn. ... Seattle signed CB DeJuan Groce, who was drafted in the fourth round by St. Louis in 2003. Groce spent three years with the Rams and one year with the Saints and has 20 career starts. ... P Kyle Stringer, in camp just so Ryan Plackemeier wouldn't have to punt all the time, was released.