2001 NFL Football Preview
CNNSI.com

Shop Fantasy Central Golf Guide Free e-mail Travel Subscribe SI About Us
  CNNSI.com
  2001 NFL Preview
Pro Football
 • Teams
 • Players
 • Team Schedules
 • Weekly Schedules
 • Preseason TV
 • Prime Time TV
 • 2001-02 Calendar

EVENTS
 Sportsman of the Year
 Heisman Trophy
 Swimsuit 2001

CENTERS
 Fantasy Central
 Inside Game
 Video Plus
 Statitudes
 Your Turn
 Message Boards
 Email Newsletters
 Golf Guide
 Cities
 

CNNSI.com GROUP
 Sports Illustrated
 Life of Reilly
 SI Women
 SI for Kids
 Press Room
 TBS/TNT Sports
 CNN Languages

COMMERCE
 SI Customer Service
 SI Media Kits
 Get into College
 Sports Memorabilia
 TeamStore


AFC WEST
1 Oakland Raiders
Team Page | Schedule | Depth chart | 2000 Stats

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

By Jeffri Chadiha

 

Sack machine Armstrong is being counted on to put pressure on a few underachieving linemates. Brad Mangin
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."

In the Year 2000
Record: 12-4
(first in AFC West)

NFL rank (rush/pass/total)
Offense: 1/15/6
Defense: 5/25/17

2001 Strength of Schedule
NFL Rank: 23 (tie)

Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .484

Games against playoff teams: 7

Sports Illustrated 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."

Issue date: September 3, 2001

 

 

   
CNNSI   Copyright © 2001 CNN/Sports Illustrated. An AOL Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines.