Raiders gearing for Seattle

The Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks no longer play in the same division or even the same conference and instead of banging heads twice annually the two teams will only cross paths once every four years in the regular season. Still, there is much at stake when the two teams meet Sunday in the 2002 season-opener.

For Oakland, it will be the first game of any consequence under new head coach Bill Callahan. The Raiders, who are coming off back-to-back AFC West titles, the game will also mark the unveiling of their new defense, one which has nine new starters, five of whom weren't even on the team's roster last season.

Much of what the Raiders will do this season will depend on how well they do against the run. It was with that thought in mind that Oakland went out in the offseason and picked up such prolific run-stoppers as defensive tackles John Parrella and Sam Adams and linebacker Bill Romanowski.

In Seattle, Oakland will find out first-hand whether or not the changes they made to their defense during the offseason were worth the price they paid. The Seahawks' Shaun Alexander, remember, torched the Raiders for an eye-popping 266 yards rushing last year, the fourth-highest single-game total in NFL history.

Alexander is the first of five top-flight backs who will try to crack Oakland's defense in successive weeks. The Raiders will also have to face the likes of Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, Tennessee's Eddie George, Buffalo's Travis Henry, St. Louis' Marshall Faulk and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson in the first six games. Combined, that sextet of runners amassed 6,676 yards and 49 touchdowns last season.

For a defense that was 22nd in the league against the run while allowing 124.3 yards a game, stopping those six would go a long way toward making this team a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

NOTES: The Raiders filled out their five-man practice squad Tuesday, signing quarterback Ronald Curry, running back Madre Hill, linebacker Tim Johnson, safety Keyon Nash and tight end Marcus Williams.

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