1 Oakland Raiders Trace Armstrong has hit it big; now the Silver and Black hopes to do the same

September 02, 2001

Defensive end Trace Armstrong lists his fitness secrets in a
spiral notebook. It's there that he jots down the wisdom the
training staff imparts to him, including the best time of day to
slip into the whirlpool, the number of supplements to gobble
down before a meal and how much water to drink while traveling
on an airplane. "A lot of guys don't think about dealing with an
injury until they have one," Armstrong says. "I'm trying to
figure out how to prevent them."

As excessive as his routine sounds to his teammates, the
35-year-old Armstrong doesn't get needled much about it. He's
coming off the best season of his 13-year career, a campaign
that helped him finally cash in on the free-agency system he
helped facilitate as president of the NFL Players Association.
Talk about timing. Playing as a situational pass rusher for the
Dolphins last year, he racked up an AFC-high 16 1/2 sacks.
Oakland rewarded him with a five-year, $18.6 million deal that
included a $5 million signing bonus. The team is counting on
Armstrong not only for his ability as a pass rusher but also for
his leadership skills. "A lot of guys are picking his brain,"
says fullback Jon Ritchie. "I follow him around like a lost
puppy dog trying to learn how he stays in great shape."

Armstrong downplays the notion that he's already making an impact
on some of his younger teammates, but he can certainly be an
influence, especially over defensive tackles Darrell Russell and
Grady Jackson, a pair of fifth-year men. Russell went to the Pro
Bowl in 1999, but his production dipped last season, when he had
only three sacks. Now he'll miss the first four games after being
suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Jackson led Oakland in sacks last year, with eight, and with a
little help from Armstrong he might improve on that total. "He's
always pointing out ways to improve our techniques," Jackson
says.

The Raiders plan to use Armstrong in much the same way the
Dolphins did. Of course, he won't have Jason Taylor, Miami's
All-Pro defensive end, working on the other side, but Oakland
does have seven of its top eight linemen back from last year.
Regan Upshaw and Tony Bryant are solid pass-rushing ends, while
Jackson is poised for a breakout season if Russell and Armstrong
can attract enough double teams.

The biggest question mark could be in the secondary. In 2000
Anthony Dorsett and Marquez Pope started at free and strong
safety, respectively, but neither impressed the brass enough to
keep the Raiders from using their first-round draft choice last
April on Florida State's Derrick Gibson. One of the lasting
images of the 2000 season was Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe
breaking a Pope tackle on his way to a 96-yard touchdown
reception in Oakland's 16-3 loss in the AFC Championship Game.
"We like the way Gibson is progressing, and we'll try to work him
into the rotation," says coach Jon Gruden, "but Pope and Dorsett
are good defenders. They only had one year in the system [both
were free-agent acquisitions last season], and they're more
comfortable now."

Gruden, who took over in 1998, goes into this season with his
most confident team yet. That's not surprising when you consider
that the Raiders are coming off a season in which they went 12-4,
won the AFC West and made their first playoff appearance since
'93. About 85% of the players participated in voluntary
off-season workouts, the highest turnout in Gruden's tenure.
"We've gone from that program being nonexistent to guys living
here year-round and working together," says quarterback Rich
Gannon, who attended all 40 sessions. "Our discipline and
structure are much better than when I got here in '99. A lot of
the guys who didn't place a priority on being professionals are
gone. Jon has surrounded himself with guys who care about those
things."

An offense that ranked sixth in the NFL last year was bolstered
by a couple of additions from across the Bay who fit that
description: wideout Jerry Rice and running back Charlie Garner,
both former 49ers. Garner is coming off a pair of 1,000-yard
seasons. There weren't any other significant roster changes,
indicating that Gruden likes what he has to work with and the
direction in which the Raiders are headed. "The way we finished
last season gave us an edge," Ritchie says. "We're trying to
expand on where we left off. When you look at who we added to
the mix, we know the team we had last year has only improved."

--Jeffri Chadiha

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Sack machine Armstrong is being counted on to put pressure on a few underachieving linemates. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BURGESS WILLIAMS

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Raiders

"The coup for them was getting Charlie Garner in free agency. He
gives them a strong running-receiving threat who will be a nice
change of pace from Tyrone Wheatley. I think a big part of
Wheatley's success last year was that he finally realized he
wasn't a breakaway threat. He became satisfied with running
between the tackles.... They obviously got tired of [tight end]
Rickey Dudley. His replacement, Roland Williams, isn't a great
talent, but he can block and catch passes well enough to
contribute more than people expect.... I think Jerry Rice was a
good move for them. The guy caught 75 passes last season, and
most general managers would be thrilled to a get a free agent
with that kind of production.... The key on offense is whether
Rich Gannon continues to play at a high level. He had a magical
year in 2000.... The offensive line doesn't get enough credit.
Barret Robbins should have gone to the Pro Bowl last year, and I
know they're happy that Steve Wisniewski didn't retire. He can
still move as well as any guard in the league.... Trace
Armstrong will make an impact. If he has only half the year he
had in Miami, he's going to give them a lift.... Their corners
remain a strength. Eric Allen is getting older but still has
enough cover ability that people don't pick on him, and Charles
Woodson gets better every year.... I like Jon Gruden. He reminds
me of a younger Jimmy Johnson. He demands a lot from his
players, and he gets it."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 9 at Kansas City
16 N.Y. JETS
23 at Miami
30 SEATTLE
Oct. 7 Open date
14 at Indianapolis
21 DALLAS
28 at Philadelphia
Nov. 5 DENVER (Mon.)
11 at Seattle
18 SAN DIEGO
25 at N.Y. Giants
Dec. 2 ARIZONA
9 KANSAS CITY
15 at San Diego (Sat.)
22 TENNESSEE (Sat.)
30 at Denver

2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 23 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .484
Games against playoff teams: 7

PROJECTED LINEUP
with 2000 statistics

COACH: Jon Gruden; fourth season with Oakland (28-20 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 12-4 (first in AFC West)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 1/15/6; defense 5/25/17

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Rich Gannon 8 473 att. 284 comp. 60.0% 3,430 yds.
28 TDs 11 int. 92.4 rtg.

RB Tyrone Wheatley 52 232 att. 1,046 yds. 4.5 avg. 20 rec.
156 yds. 7.8 avg. 10 TDs

RB Charlie Garner[N] 55 258 att. 1,142 yds. 4.4 avg. 68 rec.
647 yds. 9.5 avg. 10 TDs

FB Jon Ritchie 320 no rushing attempts in 2000 26 rec.
173 yds. 6.7 avg. 0 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Tim Brown 19 76 rec. 1,128 yds. 11 TDs
WR James Jett 116 20 rec. 356 yds. 2 TDs
WR Jerry Rice[N] 74 75 rec. 805 yds. 7 TDs
TE Roland Williams[N] 112 11 rec. 102 yds. 3 TDs
K Sebastian Janikowski 162 46/46 XPs 22/32 FGs 112 pts.
PR David Dunn 308 8 ret. 12.4 avg. 0 TDs
KR David Dunn 308 44 ret. 24.4 avg. 1 TD

LT Matt Stinchcomb 6'6" 310 lbs. 13 games 9 starts
LG Steve Wisniewski 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Barret Robbins 6'3" 320 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Mo Collins 6'4" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Lincoln Kennedy 6'6" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

DEFENSE

LE Trace Armstrong[N] 33 tackles 16 1/2 sacks
LT Darrell Russell 33 tackles 3 sacks
RT Grady Jackson 66 tackles 8 sacks
RE Regan Upshaw 23 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Elijah Alexander 67 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Greg Biekert 134 tackles 2 sacks
OLB William Thomas 76 tackles 6 int.

CB Charles Woodson 76 tackles 4 int.
SS Marquez Pope 80 tackles 2 int.
FS Anthony Dorsett 72 tackles 1 sack
CB Eric Allen 68 tackles 6 int.
P Shane Lechler 65 punts 45.9 avg.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)

"The key on offense is whether Gannon continues to play at a
high level."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)