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1 OAKLAND Raiders
Michael Silver
August 28, 2000
Sebastian Janikowski has given the special teams a giant kick start—and some of the franchise's old swagger, to boot
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August 28, 2000

1 Oakland Raiders

Sebastian Janikowski has given the special teams a giant kick start—and some of the franchise's old swagger, to boot

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PROJECTED LINEUP
WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Jon Gruden
Third season with Raiders (16-16 in NFL)

Offensive Backs

QB

Rich Gannon

23*

515 att.

304 comp.

59.0%

3,840 yds.

24 TDs

14 int.

86.5 rtg.

RB

Tyrone Wheatley

47*

242 att.

936 yds.

3.9 avg.

21 rec.

196 yds.

9.3 avg.

11 TDs

RB

Napoleon Kaufman

113*

138 att.

714 yds.

5.2 avg.

18 rec.

181 yds.

10.1 avg.

3 TDs

FB

Jon Ritchie

287*

5 att.

12 yds.

2.4 avg.

45 rec.

408 yds.

9.1 avg.

1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR

Tim Brown

32*

90 rec.

1,344 yds.

6 TDs

WR

James Jett

138*

39 rec.

552 yds.

2 TDs

WR

Andre Rison#

247*

21 rec.

218 yds.

0 TDs

TE

Rickey Dudley

104*

39 rec.

555 yds.

9 TDs

K

S. Janikowski (R)#

154*

47/47 XPs

23/30 FGs

116 pts.

PR

Darrien Gordon

339*

42 ret.

9.5 avg.

0 TDs

KR

Napoleon Kaufman

113*

42 ret.

19.8 avg.

0 TDs

LT

Matt Stinchcomb

6'6"

300 lbs.

0 games

0 starts

LG

Steve Wisniewski

6'4"

305 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

C

Barret Robbins

6'3"

315 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RG

Mo Collins

6'4"

330 lbs.

13 games

12 starts

RT

Lincoln Kennedy

6'6"

335 lbs.

15 games

15 starts

Defense

LE

Tony Bryant

16 tackles

4 sacks

LT

Grady Jackson

33 tackles

4 sacks

RT

Darrell Russell

43 tackles

9 sacks

RE

Lance Johnstone

51 tackles

10 sacks

OLB

Eric Barton#

29 tackles

3 sacks

MLB

Greg Biekert

136 tackles

2 sacks

OLB

Elijah Alexander?#

66 tackles

1 int.

CB

Eric Allen

64 tackles

3 int.

SS

Marquez Pope

93 tackles

2 int.

FS

Anthony Dorsett

20 tackles

1 int.

CB

Charles Woodson

61 tackles

1 int.

P

Shane Lechler (R)#

60 punts

46.5 avg.

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)
? 1998 statistics

With one brusque stroke of his powerful left leg—and some well-timed trash talk toward his coach—Sebastian Janikowski persuaded his teammates that he can help them kick a very annoying habit. More than two hours into a hot July workout in Napa, Calif., coach Jon Gruden put the bald-headed rookie into the ultimate pressure cooker: Make a 53-yard field goal, and the full-pads practice will be over; miss it, and the entire team will run gassers, a series of wind sprints known to bring 300-pound men to tears.

Long-term ramifications loomed as well. Missed field goals played a key role in seven of Oakland's eight losses last season, and owner Al Davis's bold response was to draft Janikowski with the 17th pick. After starring at Florida State and blowing minds at the NFL scouting combine, Janikowski was being given a chance to validate the hype. "I know he played in national championship games in college and had a lot of big kicks, but I guarantee that's as much pressure as he's ever faced," Gruden says. "He had guys like [offensive tackle] Lincoln Kennedy and [defensive tackles] Grady Jackson and Darrell Russell threatening to kill him, and I took a timeout to ice him and called him a lot of foul words for good measure."

Janikowski defiantly slammed the ball through the uprights with yards to spare, then began ragging on Gruden while being mobbed by relieved teammates.

A kicker with an attitude? Only in Oakland, where this renegade and reeling franchise is perpetually trying to recapture its pride. In the wake of last year's shameful showing in all phases of the kicking game, Davis—the man who shocked the football world 17 years ago by using a No. 1 pick on punter Ray Guy—made the 6'2", 255-pound Janikowski the first kicker selected in the opening round since the Saints took Russell Erxleben in 1979. The Raiders also spent a fifth-round pick on Shane Lechler, who set the NCAA record for career punting average (44.7 yards) at Texas A&M.

Janikowski and Lechler are kindred spirits, young men of girth and mirth who defy the stereotype of the detached, eccentric kicking specialist. "We're not the kind who go off to the side and do their own thing," Janikowski says. "We hang out with everyone, even the linebackers, and we give out as much as we take."

Janikowski, a native of Poland whose off-field carousing has triggered a few legal scrapes, has been forced to take plenty of good-natured grief from Gruden. "He claims to be a very romantic guy with lots of class and culture, but I'm not buying it," Gruden says. "I tell him, 'That's a fake accent, and your name's not really Sebastian Janikowski. You're just a guy named Sam Smith from Vero Beach who's got us all conned."

Gruden got hooked on Janikowski at last February's combine in Indianapolis, where the kicker put on a show that had coaches and scouts buzzing. "Everyone was just amazed at his leg," recalls Ted Sundquist, the Broncos' director of college scouting. "There's this one drill where they have to try to clear the crossbar from five yards back, and I've never seen a guy get the ball up and over as easily as he did."

After being selected by the Raiders, Lechler, a 6'2" 230-pounder with a quick release, got a call from Guy, who is considered the greatest punter in NFL history. "Don't make people forget about me," Guy said. The Raiders would settle for Lechler making people forget about Leo Araguz, who ranked near the bottom of the league in gross and net average last season. Similarly they hope Janikowski can obliterate the memory of the past three seasons, none of which has ended with the Raiders ranked better than 28th in field goal accuracy.

"Last year there was a feeling of learned helplessness and hopelessness, and that messes with your mind," says fullback Jon Ritchie. "Kickers have a stigma of being head cases, but 'Seabass' and Shane were incredibly successful in college. They're big guys who have that little tinge of aggression in them, and there are times they seem to be taking it out on the ball."

After a second consecutive 8-8 season under Gruden, the Raiders, who haven't made the playoffs since '93, resisted the urge to make major changes. Instead they settled for a special-teams overhaul that extended to the coaching ranks, with Michigan State's Bob Casullo replacing assistant Frank Gansz Jr. Casullo has plenty of repair work to do—Oakland was second-to-last in kickoff-return average—and the combination of Janikowski's booming kick-offs, Lechler's prodigious hang time and fast newcomers such as safety Anthony Dorsett could make a huge difference.

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