2 Oakland Raiders One of the NFL's oldest teams will rely on three of its youngest players for another crack at glory

August 31, 2003

Charles Woodson and Tory James each hobbled into Qualcomm Stadium
with a metal plate in his leg and walked off the field with a
knot in his stomach. Needless to say, last Jan. 26 was a
not-so-Super Sunday for the Raiders' cornerbacks, who learned the
hard way that trying to cover the Buccaneers' wideouts with
broken fibulas is futile. "I had that early interception,"
Woodson recalls, "and I was thinking, MVP, win the game, all that
good stuff. But as the game dragged on, it was like one long, bad
dream that never seemed to end."

Oakland's crushing 48-21 loss to the Bucs and former Raiders
coach Jon Gruden can be explained by many factors--Tampa's edge
in team speed; superior coaching by Gruden against his former
assistant Bill Callahan; a dreadful performance by MVP
quarterback Rich Gannon; the suspension of All-Pro center Barret
Robbins after he went on a drinking binge, brought on by his
bipolar disorder--but its struggling secondary was a primary
culprit. It certainly didn't help that Phillip Buchanon, the
Raiders' electrifying cover corner, watched helplessly from the
sideline, his rookie season having ended after he broke his left
wrist in Week 7.

Now, as Callahan attempts to coax one more title run from his
long-in-the-tooth squad (the current roster, average age 28.5, is
the third oldest in the NFL), a trio of young cornerbacks could
be the key. With James having bolted to the Bengals as a free
agent, Woodson, 26, and Buchanon, 22, form a spectacular starting
tandem. Rookie Nnamdi Asomugha, a first-round draft pick from
Cal, will likely be the nickelback, with holdover Terrance Shaw
also in the mix. "I think it's going to start with our
defense--and it's got to start with our corners," says
38-year-old free safety Rod Woodson (no relation to Charles), who
tied for the NFL lead in interceptions last season with eight.

While the selection of the big (6'3", 215 pounds), speedy
Asomugha with the 31st pick might have been confusing to
some--including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who transposed and
butchered Asomugha's name at the podium on draft day--Charles
Woodson knew the deal: Since he's set to make $2.4 million in the
final season of the six-year contract he signed as a rookie,
Woodson's future in Oakland may depend on how, and how much, he
plays in 2003. "I feel like I'm starting over," says the former
Heisman winner, whose streak of four consecutive Pro Bowl
appearances ended last season.

Slowed by turf toe throughout much of 2001, the 6'1", 205-pound
Woodson began last season with a flourish, forcing three fumbles
and intercepting a pass in the Raiders' first two games. But he
broke his right humerus bone during Oakland's 30-17 victory over
the Steelers in Week 2 and had to sit out the next five games.
Shortly after his return he cracked his right fibula, missing a
total of three games before returning to play with the plate in
his leg.

Woodson understands that by sucking it up for his team and then
getting burned repeatedly in the Super Bowl, he may have damaged
his reputation as a star. Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain
recently told The Miami Herald that Woodson was the NFL's most
overhyped player, and several of his peers questioned Woodson
about his decision to play hurt. Shortly after the Super Bowl one
prominent player approached him and said, 'Yo, I wouldn't have
done that.'"

Buchanon, an explosive player who returned an interception for a
touchdown and busted a punt return for a score during his
abbreviated rookie year, relishes the notion of playing opposite
a revived Woodson. "It's not going to be a pretty sight for
offensive coordinators," says Buchanon, a first-round pick from
Miami in 2002. "A lot of people are going to try me, and I can't
wait."

Woodson, too, remains confident. Asked about the possibility of
forming one of the alltime cornerback combinations with Buchanon,
he says, "I feel any tandem I'm part of has a chance to be one of
the best."

The Raiders would like nothing more than for their brash corners
to back up their words. --M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP PAYBACK TIME Charles Woodson, who has been injured in each of the last two seasons, is ready to restore his reputation. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS HARRIS COLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

Since his disappearing act at Super Bowl XXXVII, center BARRET
ROBBINS has gone through rehab for alcohol abuse and sought
treatment for bipolar disorder. Now the All-Pro is trying to
regain his starting job, which was ceded to Adam Treu. A 30-pound
weight gain, the result of his medication and off-season knee
surgery, won't make that easy.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"This is still a very good team, and it could be better
defensively this year because Phillip Buchanon is back from a
broken wrist--the secondary suffered last year when he went down.
People talk about Champ Bailey, but Buchanon is the league's top
young talent back there. He has great quickness, lateral
movement, footwork and coverage skills.... When Charles Woodson
is healthy, he's one of the best, but he needs to stop playing
smash-mouth like he did in college and pick his spots.... I
really like Napoleon Harris. If you watched him closely last
year, he made a lot of plays because he's instinctive. As he
starts to understand the game better, watch out.... Every club
looks for a special teams guy like Eric Johnson. He wreaks havoc
and is always around the ball.... Rich Gannon takes three-and
five-step drops, reads the defense on the way back and delivers
quickly, so there's no chance he'll get sacked.... Jerry Rice and
Tim Brown are Hall of Famers, but Jerry Porter is a great young
talent, and I'd hate to see them use the older guys at his
expense.... Lincoln Kennedy is their best offensive lineman. He
has the ability to dominate his opponent."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Tennessee
14 CINCINNATI
22 at Denver (Mon.)
28 SAN DIEGO

Oct. 5 at Chicago
12 at Cleveland
20 KANSAS CITY (Mon.)
26 OPEN DATE

Nov. 2 at Detroit
9 N.Y. JETS
16 MINNESOTA
23 at Kansas City
30 DENVER

Dec. 7 at Pittsburgh
14 BALTIMORE
22 GREEN BAY (Mon.)
28 at San Diego

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 20
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .482
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD: 11-5
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 18/1/1
DEFENSE 3/23/11

COACH: Bill Callahan; second season with Oakland (11-5 in NFL)

CHARLIE GARNER

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 34 182 962 5.3

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
91 941 10.3 11

RICH GANNON

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 6 618 418 67.6

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
4,689 26 10 97.3

TIM BROWN

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 70 81 930 2

DOUG JOLLEY

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 195 32 409 2

BARRY SIMS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'5" 300 lbs. 15 15

FRANK MIDDLETON

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'4" 330 lbs. 16 16

ADAM TREU

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 0

MO COLLINS

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'4" 325 lbs. 10 10

LINCOLN KENNEDY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'6" 335 lbs. 15 15

JERRY PORTER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 103 51 688 9

JERRY RICE

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 52 92 1,211 7

DEFENSE

RE DELAWRENCE GRANT 26 tackles 3 sacks
RT JOHN PARRELLA 44 tackles 1 sack
LT DANA STUBBLEFIELD[1] 38 tackles 3 sacks
LE TYLER BRAYTON (R)[1] 66 tackles 7 sacks
OLB BILL ROMANOWSKI 91 tackles 4 sacks
MLB NAPOLEON HARRIS 81 tackles 1/2 sack
OLB ERIC BARTON 124 tackles 6 sacks
CB PHILLIP BUCHANON 21 tackles 2 int.
SS DERRICK GIBSON 64 tackles 0 int.
FS ROD WOODSON 82 tackles 8 int.
CB CHARLES WOODSON 37 tackles 1 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI 177 50/50 XPS 26/33 FGS 128 PTS.
PR PHILLIP BUCHANON 450 15 RET. 11.9 AVG. 1 TD
KR RONNEY JENKINS[1] 407 40 RET. 23.1 AVG. 0 TDS
P SHANE LECHLER 53 PUNTS 42.5 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"People talk about Champ Bailey, but Buchanon is the [league's] top
young talent."

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)