Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jan 2002
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2002 San Jose Mercury News
Author: John Ryan, San Jose Mercury News


Defensive tackle Darrell Russell cannot play for - or even talk to -
the Raiders until 2003 after his appeal of a third drug-policy
violation failed.

Wednesday started well enough for the Raiders, with Coach Jon Gruden
gathering players to reveal five Pro Bowl selections. But things
quickly deteriorated with one piece of bad news after another.

The worst: The NFL announced that defensive tackle Darrell Russell has
been suspended for a year for a third violation of the league's
substance-abuse policy.

The first shoe had dropped Dec. 2, when CBS reported that Russell had
tested positive for the drug ``ecstasy.'' Although the league and the
Raiders didn't confirm the specifics Wednesday, a three-paragraph
statement from the NFL said Russell cannot apply for reinstatement
until Jan. 2, 2003 -- after the 2002 regular season ends. Russell had
appealed the initial finding Dec. 6; some in the organization wondered
about the reasons for a delayed decision, but the timetable is fairly
common for such matters.

Russell, 25, had cleaned out his belongings and left team headquarters
in Alameda before reporters entered the building Wednesday. Teammates
and coaches expressed support -- and the hope that Russell realizes
the gravity of his troubles.

``You either come back a drug addict,'' receiver Tim Brown said, ``or
you come back clean and sober and ready to do your thing and
understanding that the lifestyle you have led, you can't lead anymore.''

Russell's suspension wasn't the only trouble the Raiders encountered
as they began preparations for the regular-season finale Sunday
against the New York Jets. The sidelights:

Receiver Jerry Rice is in Mississippi, where his father is seriously
ill, and might miss the game Sunday.

Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is in the hospital because of a bacterial
infection called cellulitis, which kept him out of two games last
season, and might force the Raiders to sign another kicker.

The practice field in Alameda again was too wet, forcing the team to
take buses to Foothill High School in Pleasanton, their third
alternate practice site in the past week.

``Today was kind of a rough day for us,'' quarterback Rich Gannon

But Russell, despite his absence, was at the center of the storm.
Players can socialize with him on their own time, but he is not
allowed to have any contact with the team for the duration of his suspension.

He might not return when it ends, either. Russell's contract calls for
a $9 million salary next season, with raises of $1 million for each of
the next three years. That's paper money only; the numbers are set
absurdly high to force a renegotiation.

None of his salary counts against the cap while Russell serves his
suspension. But the Raiders can cut him at any time, and the meeting
Russell attended Wednesday morning could have been the last of his
Raiders career. It's a remarkable fall for the No. 2 pick in the 1997
draft and a Pro Bowl selection after the 1998 and '99 seasons.

``Darrell's got a problem, and the problem has been well-documented,''
Gruden said. ``I'm not going to feel any differently about Darrell
Russell. I'm not going to walk in here and make it sound like he let
us down in any way, shape or form. Darrell Russell has a problem
that's got to be dealt with. I just hope he can deal with it, and I
hope he gets all the support and all the love he can get.''

Russell didn't play well in 2000, but coaches had high hopes heading
into training camp. Then, on Aug. 7, the league suspended Russell for
the first four games of the season. Russell said the suspension came
after he missed a drug test because NFL officials didn't notify him
they were coming to his home in Oakland. His agent, Leigh Steinberg,
said the transgression that put Russell in the drug program in the
first place was a positive marijuana test, the result of secondhand

Russell spent the first month of the 2001 season at an elite training
center in Arizona, where he lost 22 pounds and gained a measure of
respect from teammates.

``He stayed in shape, he came back, he looked good, we put him in the
rotation, things went well for him,'' strong safety Marquez Pope said.

The Raiders weathered Russell's absence well to start the season, and
they said they can do it again. Rod Coleman probably will start in his
place, but to fill Russell's spot on the six-man rotation along the
defensive line, the Raiders will have to choose from Josh Taves and
Junior Ioane, who have been left off the game-day roster every week.
It isn't a good problem for a defense that recently regained its
bearings after a horrible five-week stretch through

Such thoughts were secondary, though.

``What happens to Darrell now that he's not around guys who try and
give him some form of help?'' Brown said. ``Obviously the people who
are around him are not helping him at all.''
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek