He has been barked at by Buddy Ryan, bull rushed by Mike Ditka
and blistered by some of the best receivers in football. After a
hectic decade as a premier cornerback with the Eagles and the
Saints, Eric Allen isn't intimidated by a dysfunctional locker
When he was traded from New Orleans to the Raiders for a
fourth-round draft choice in March, Allen considered retiring
but soon changed his mind. Upon arriving in the Bay Area, he
didn't need much time to recognize what was troubling the
Raiders. "They haven't had discipline in 10 or 12 years," he
says. "They were doing things like they were back in the '80s.
Now it's time for the coaching staff to get control and the
players to block out the garbage and produce."
Typically mentioned as a Super Bowl contender in recent
preseasons, only to self-destruct as a result of mistake-filled
play and the ensuing finger-pointing, Oakland finally swallowed
a dose of reality in January. That's when, in the wake of a 4-12
disaster--the organization's fourth consecutive nonplayoff
campaign, and its worst record in 35 years--owner Al Davis
candidly declared that his team didn't have nearly the talent as
had been thought.
Davis wasn't too thrilled with the coaching, either; he fired
Joe Bugel after just one year on the job. Hired as the Raiders'
fourth coach in five seasons was 34-year-old Jon Gruden, who had
been Philadelphia's offensive coordinator the past three years.
In addition to installing a West Coast-style offense that should
benefit quarterback Jeff George (29 touchdown passes and nine
interceptions in '97), Gruden tried to improve team chemistry by
weeding out perceived negative influences--defensive linemen
Chester McGlockton and Anthony Smith, for starters. "We brought
in some veterans who have high standards, high character and a
lot of personal pride," says Gruden, who will be 35 when the
season begins but is still the NFL's youngest coach by 51/2
years. "And we added Charles Woodson, the kind of guy who can
give us some juice."
Woodson, the Heisman Trophy-winning cornerback and fourth pick
in the 1998 draft, is expected to help a defensive unit that had
a dubious trifecta last year: It ranked last in the league in
rushing, passing and total defense. Oakland's defense made
one-week wonders out of obscure players like Panthers halfback
Fred Lane (147 yards rushing and three touchdowns) and Seahawks
quarterback Jon Kitna (283 passing yards). Because they often
had their backs turned, Raiders defenders missed much of the
action, a consequence of former defensive coordinator Fred
Whittingham's soft schemes and subpar play from high-priced
performers such as McGlockton and cornerback Terry McDaniel.
In his better days McDaniel carried on a legacy of physical
Raiders cornerbacks (Willie Brown, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes)
who defined the organization's brash persona. The addition of
Allen, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, and the dynamic Woodson
gives Oakland a chance to restore order on the outside. In a
departure from the Raiders' man-to-man mentality, new defensive
coordinator Willie Shaw, who came on board after a season with
the Saints, favors an aggressive scheme that features an
abundance of zone blitzes. That means Allen and Woodson will
play a lot of tight zones with some freedom to jump on passes in
the flat. Shaw is also stressing unity.
"He talks about us being ants rather than roaches," says Allen,
who was successfully recruited by Shaw out of Point Loma High in
San Diego in 1983, when Shaw was an assistant coach at Arizona
State. "When you turn the light on, roaches will scatter, but
ants will stay on their trail no matter what, whether you throw
dirt on them or whatever."
The flamboyant Woodson, who basked in the spotlight at Michigan,
has surprised teammates with his low-key approach. Joining the
professional ranks has been an eye-opening experience for the
21-year-old, beginning with a predraft meeting with Davis during
which he told the former coach of his affinity for bump-and-run
coverage. "I invented it," Davis replied.
That said, it should come as no surprise that Davis gave the
unit a makeover. He cut McDaniel and backup cornerback Larry
Brown, perhaps the biggest bust since the dawn of unrestricted
free agency, and switched two '97 starters to backup roles at
new positions: 16-year veteran Albert Lewis (now at free safety)
and James Trapp (now at corner). Anthony Newman, an 11-year
veteran free agent signed away from New Orleans, replaces Trapp
at strong safety, while free safety Eric Turner, a Pro Bowl
player during his days with the Browns, is the lone holdover.
"Everyone I know around the league asks me the same question:
'How do you guys lose with so much talent?'" says Turner, who
joined the Raiders in 1997. "But you can take 11 consistent guys
who play hard together and beat an all-star team that doesn't
Oakland is no all-star team. Guard Steve Wisniewski is the only
standout offensive lineman, and the defensive front seven is
vulnerable. The Raiders will have their share of adversity. The
question is, Will they scatter or stand firm? --M.S.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO SWARMING The Raiders need more plays like this from linebackers Mike Morton (50), Greg Biekert (54) and Lance Johnstone.
B/W PHOTO: CLAY MCLACHLAN Araguz [Leo Araguz]
Sept. 6 at Kansas City
13 N.Y. GIANTS
27 at Dallas
Oct. 4 at Arizona
11 SAN DIEGO
18 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 at Seattle
8 at Baltimore
22 at Denver
Dec. 6 MIAMI
13 at Buffalo
20 at San Diego
26 KANSAS CITY (Sat.)
1997 Record 4-12 (4th in AFC West) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 23/8/13; defense 30/30/30
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 9 Opponents' 1997 winning
percentage: .514 Games against playoff teams: 6
Raiders of the Lost Yardage
Last year the Raiders suffered a loss of yardage on 17.5% of
their rushing plays (excluding quarterback kneel-downs), the
highest percentage of negative-yardage rushing plays by any team.
The chief culprit was Napoleon Kaufman, who, though averaging an
impressive 4.8 yards per carry, was tackled behind the line more
frequently than any other running back in the league (minimum 50
Team Att. Neg.-yard att. Pct.
Raiders 354 62 17.5
Saints 410 61 14.9
Jets 414 58 14.0
Seahawks 391 53 13.6
Dolphins 417 54 12.9
Running back, team Att. Neg.-yard att. Pct.
Napoleon Kaufman, Raiders 272 56 20.6
Troy Davis, Saints 75 14 18.7
Jay Graham, Ravens 81 13 16.0
Ray Zellars, Saints 156 24 15.4
Adrian Murrell, Jets 300 46 15.3
A standout with NFL Europe's Rhein Fire in 1996, punter Leo
Araguz established himself Stateside last season. He dropped 28
punts inside the 20, tying him with the Chiefs' Louie Aguiar for
the AFC lead, and his 39.1-yard net average was second only to
the Redskins' Matt Turk.... Here's why coach Jon Gruden wants to
get his backs and tight ends more involved in the passing game:
In Oakland's 12 losses, wideout Tim Brown caught 90 passes for
1,220 yards; in its four wins he had 14 receptions for 188
yards.... It's not hard to understand why some players might be
hesitant about Gruden's hybrid West Coast-style offense. The
Raiders tried to run a similar attack in '96 but with not much
success. "We thought it was going to be awesome, but then it all
went away," says left guard Steve Wisniewski. "I don't know if
we bowed to the pressure or what, but it just became the old
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Jon Gruden
First season with Raiders (0-0 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Jeff George 11[PVR*] 521 att. 290 comp. 55.7%
3,917 yds. 29 TDs 9 int. 91.2 rtg.
RB Napoleon Kaufman 12[PVR*] 272 att. 1,294 yds. 4.8
avg. 40 rec. 403 yds. 10.1 avg. 8 TDs
FB Jon Ritchie[N](R) 388[PVR*] 17 att. 95 yds. 5.6
avg. 8 rec. 61 yds. 7.6 avg. 2 TDs
RB Harvey Williams 195[PVR*] 18 att. 70 yds. 3.9
avg. 16 rec. 147 yds. 9.2 avg. 5 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Tim Brown 17[PVR*] 104 rec. 1,408 yds. 5 TDs
WR James Jett 31[PVR*] 46 rec. 804 yds. 12 TDs
WR Terry Mickens[N] 220[PVR*] 1 rec. 2 yds. 1 TD
TE Rickey Dudley 62[PVR*] 48 rec. 787 yds. 7 TDs
K Greg Davis[N] 187[PVR*] 31/32 XPs 26/34 FGs 109 pts.
PR Desmond Howard 211[PVR*] 27 ret. 7.8 avg. 0 TDs
KR Desmond Howard 211[PVR*] 61 ret. 21.6 avg. 0 TDs
LT Pat Harlow 6'6" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Steve Wisniewski 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Barret Robbins 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Derrick Graham[N] 6'4" 315 lbs. 9 games 9 starts
RT Lincoln Kennedy 6'6" 335 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Lance Johnstone 31 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
LT Russell Maryland 79 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT Darrell Russell 44 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RE Aundray Bruce 9 tackles 1 sack
OLB Mike Morton 75 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Greg Biekert 99 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
OLB James Folston 24 tackles 0 sacks
CB Charles Woodson[N](R) 44 tackles 8 int.
SS Anthony Newman[N] 63 tackles 3 int.
FS Eric Turner 108 tackles 2 int.
CB Eric Allen[N] 50 tackles 2 int.
P Leo Araguz 93 punts 45.0 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)