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Patriots sign two, place two on IR

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots signed free agent cornerback Artrell Hawkins and free agent offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski today. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed. Additionally, the team announced that defensive back Randall Gay has been placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury and center Dan Koppen has been placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Gay and Koppen will miss the remainder of the 2005 season.

Hawkins, 28, is in his eighth NFL season and has played in 103 career games with 76 starts for the Cincinnati Bengals (1998-2003) and Carolina Panthers (2004). The 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound cornerback has recorded 404 career tackles (361 solo), three sacks, 10 interceptions for 166 yards and a touchdown, 67 passes defensed, 11 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries. He tied for the longest interception return in Bengals history when he returned an interception 102 yards for a touchdown against the Houston Texans in 2002, a season in which he led the Cincinnati secondary with 92 tackles. The University of Cincinnati product was originally drafted by the Bengals in the second round (43rd overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft, and tied for the Bengals team lead with three interceptions in 1998 and 2001. In 2004, Hawkins served as Carolina's nickel back after signing with the Panthers in the offseason. He was signed by the Washington Redskins as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2005 season and was released by Washington on Aug. 27, 2005.

Mruczkowski, 25, is joining New England's active roster for the second time this season and was originally signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent on May 16, 2003. The 6-foot-2-inch, 305-pound offensive lineman has played in 10 career games, all with the Patriots in 2004. The Purdue product spent the entire 2004 season on the active roster and served as the backup center and played on special teams protection units for most of the year. He was released by the Patriots on Sept. 3, 2005 and was re-signed on Sept. 28. Mruczkowski was on the roster for the Patriots' game against San Diego on Oct. 2, 2005 but was listed as a day-of-game inactive and was released again on Oct. 8. Mruczkowski did not play as a rookie for the Patriots in 2003, beginning the season on the reserve/PUP list and ending the year on injured reserve.

Gay, 23, is in his second NFL season and has played in 20 career games for the Patriots with 11 starts since being signed as an undrafted free agent on April 29, 2004. The 5-foot-11-inch, 186-pound defensive back has recorded 49 career tackles (44 solo), two interceptions for 23 yards, seven passes defensed and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned 41 yards for a touchdown at Cleveland on Dec. 5, 2004. As a rookie last season, the Louisiana State product started more games (9) than any other Patriots rookie. He also started all three playoff games and was the Patriots' leading tackler in Super Bowl XXXIX, coming up with 11 solo tackles. In 2005, Gay played in five games with two starts (one at cornerback and one at safety), and made 11 tackles (10 solo) and one pass defensed.

Koppen, 26, is in his third NFL season and has played in 41 career games for the Patriots with 40 starts since being selected by the Patriots in the fifth round (164th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2-inch, 286-pounder has started 40 consecutive regular-season games at center for the Patriots, compiling the second longest consecutive starts streak behind quarterback Tom Brady (71). The Boston College product took over the starting job in the second game of his rookie season of 2003, and started all six of the Patriots' playoff games in 2003 and 2004. Last season, Koppen anchored the center of an offensive line that paved the way for Corey Dillon to set the franchise record with 1,635 rushing yards as the team averaged more than four yards per carry for the first time in 19 seasons and allowed just 26 sacks, the fewest by a Patriots squad in 10 years.

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