Raiders will have new look up front

Grady Jackson's decision to sign with the New Orleans Saints last week left the Raiders in a precarious situation. Already having lost fellow defensive tackle Darrell Russell to a year-long suspension and with uncertainty at defensive end Oakland faces the prospect of opening the 2002 season with almost an entirely new defensive line.

The Raiders defense as a whole has undergone a facelift since the end of last season. In addition to Jackson and Russell, Oakland has also said good-bye to linebackers William Thomas and Elijah Alexander as well as safety Marquez Pope. Cornerback Eric Allen is mulling whether to return for another season or not, which, all things considered, could leave the Raiders having to field a defense with as many as seven new starters next season.

The only returning starters on Oakland's defense are cornerback Charles Woodson, safety Anthony Dorsett, linebacker Greg Biekert and defensive end Regan Upshaw. Trace Armstrong missed nearly the entire 2001 season with a foot injury but is expected to be back and will likely supplant Upshaw on one side of the line provided his rehabillitation continues on schedule.

The changes on defense could put added pressure on Oakland's offense, which will already be under the gun to prove it can survive without the influence of former head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden's successor, Bill Callahan, has said he will keep the offense pretty much intact but has stated his intentions of getting more out of the running game.

Jackson's absence means Roderick Coleman will enter training camp this season with a starting position his to lose. Coleman and John Parrella, signed in the offseason, will get first crack at the starting defensive tackle jobs while Chris Cooper and Josh Taves will get long looks as well.


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