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Seymour is still defensive force

Ex-Patriot at core of Raiders’ revival

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 29, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - Five days passed between the time the Patriots traded Richard Seymour to the Raiders two years ago and the time he arrived in Oakland, Calif.

The Raiders did everything within the limits of league rules (issuing a letter informing him he had five days to report or face a yearlong suspension) and everything within the limits of self-respect (sending scouts to persuade Seymour that Oakland wasn’t as bad as perceived) to get him to join them.

But Seymour needed time.

He said he was “blindsided.’’

Eight days before the 2009 season opener on a Monday night against the Bills, the Patriots shipped away the player who had anchored their defensive line for eight seasons.

“I didn’t understand what was going on,’’ he said.

Not only did he have to figure out what to do with his family - leave them in Massachusetts or move them to California - he also had to come to grips with whatever feelings he had for the Patriots. He had assumed before the start of the 2009 season that his time in New England was running out - and he was right.

In two seasons in Oakland, Seymour has boxed away the memories he made in New England (three Super Bowls wins, five trips to the Pro Bowl), and he doesn’t plan on unpacking them when the Patriots visit Oakland Sunday.

“That was years ago,’’ Seymour said yesterday by telephone. “All my attention’s been focused on getting my team out here a lot better. That chapter’s closed, over and done with. You kind of reflect when your career’s over.’’

Seymour isn’t the same player he was when he left New England. Two years ago, he was coming off an eight-sack season. At 31, he is at the “veteran leader’’ stage of his career, still a force on the defensive front but just as valuable for his football knowledge.

In New England, he went through a range of experiences. He held the Lombardi Trophy and held out for a new contract. He started 16 games in 2002, and was benched for the first 13 plays of a December game in 2003 for missing a practice to attend his grandfather’s funeral.

He learned the game, and he learned the business.

“I think in life you grow, you learn from different situations,’’ Seymour said. “I’ve experienced a lot over the course of my career.’’

When he was young, he learned from players such as Anthony Pleasant and Ted Washington. Now, he is passing the knowledge along.

“That’s really what it’s been all about for me: Taking on the responsibilities that’s been needed,’’ he said. “At points in your career, you learn and you be quiet, you do what the veterans do. Sometimes you need to be more vocal.’’

The situation Seymour walked into when he arrived in Oakland was an ugly one. The Raiders were a five-win team in 2009, second-worst in the AFC. They gave up the 10th-most points in the league and fourth-most rushing yards. Last year, they went 8-8, winning four of their last five games.

This season, the Raiders are 2-1 with wins over the Broncos and Jets.

Seymour is quick to point out, “Two games doesn’t win us anything in this league.’’

But the Raiders are no longer perceived as a mess. Playing well early in the season has made them a threat.

Seymour’s presence has helped change the culture, Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. He’s the type of player to lead by example if need be, but he’s also the type to slap Ben Roethlisberger in the face.

“I tell everybody he was our first-round draft pick that year,’’ Jackson said. “I’m very happy about what happened as far as the trade to here. He’s played well for us.’’

In return for Seymour, the Patriots got the Raiders’ first-round pick in last April’s draft and used it to select offensive lineman Nate Solder, who has played extensively in his first three NFL games. Bill Belichick boiled the trade down to a football decision.

“I would say that both of those decisions, we were doing what we felt like was best for our football team, which encompasses a lot of things,’’ Belichick said. “It wasn’t a player-for-player trade.

“We traded Richard in the situation we were in prior to the ’09 season and we drafted Nate based on the 2011 draft. We didn’t know we were getting him when we traded Richard. We knew what the value was; we didn’t know what the player was.

“In both cases, we did what was best for our football team. I know they’re related, but in a sense they’re independent, too.

Seymour is a proven player, and Patriots offensive lineman Brian Waters wonders how good Seymour could have been had he played his entire career in a system like Oakland’s attacking 4-3.

“We’d probably be talking about him in a much higher respect as one of the best D-tackles in the history of the game,’’ Waters said. “But over the last few years, he’s if not the best defensive tackle, one of the hardest to go against.’’

Jackson agreed.

“There is no question,’’ Jackson said. “I think he is one of the best D-tackles ever. I’m just so excited that he’s here playing for us and we don’t have to play against him.’’

Tom Brady, who still calls Seymour a friend, expects to see a lot of Seymour Sunday.

“He’s a tough, hard-nosed football player that loves the game, and you can see that by the way he plays,’’ said Brady. “He has high expectations for himself, really gets after the quarterback. He plays the run well.

“He’s obviously a leader in that defensive front there and when he gets going, they all get going. That’s the thing - they really rally around him. When he makes his plays, then they all start making plays.

“So it’s got to be important for us to try to figure out ways to slow him down.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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