Sapp Ready to Fill Gap with Raiders

Warren Sapp recently took part in a youth football clinic in Miami - and the former University of Miami star was in mid-season form. "Let's spread some Raider love back east," said Sapp, who signed a seven-year, $36 million deal with Oakland in March. "I can't leave without spreading some of this stuff."

Sapp signed a bundle of foam silver and black helmets before heading out to greet the kids participating in the clinic. But the Raiders hope Sapp isn't so generous come September.

The 6-2, 303-pounder is expected to spark a Raiders' defensive unit that last - among 32 teams - against the run last season. Sapp, along with Ted Washington and Dwayne Rudd, hope to improve a defense that went from a Super Bowl appearance in 2003 to part of just four victories a year ago.

"There's too much talent there (in Oakland) to have another down season," said Sapp, who had 44 tackles and five sacks with the Buccaneers last season. "I'm ready to help turn this around. The silver and black and Warren Sapp is a match made in heaven."

Despite putting together Hall of Fame credentials in nine seasons with the Buccaneers, Sapp wasn't received with open arms during the free-agent signing period. Only the Cincinnati Bengals and Raiders, at the last hour, made a serious run at the four-time All-Pro.

Sapp opted for the silver and black.

"The opportunity to play for (Oakland owner) Al Davis was too good to pass up," says Sapp. "The whole mystic thing with the Raiders and the chance to play for a franchise with so much tradition was too sweet to ignore."

But while the Raiders are banking he has plenty left, Sapp has already heard whispers around the league that his best days are behind him. After compiling 93 tackles and 29 sacks in 1999 and 2000, the 31-year-old hasn't reached double-digit sacks the last three seasons.

Sapp, who has recorded 404 career-tackles, has averaged six sacks a season since 2001 fueling speculation that he has lost a step. Now, he's out to dispel that notion.

"I've been working extremely hard to be in the best shape of my life," said Sapp, a member of the 2002 Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. "I'm going to prove a lot of people wrong."

One thing the Raiders can count on is Sapp being on the field. Since 1995, his rookie season, the former first-round pick has missed just 10 of 140 games.

"We know what we're getting with Warren - a true pro in every way," said Oakland head coach Norv Turner. "All you have to do is take a look at his track record. It speaks volumes of the man."

Sapp, along with Washington, could give the Raiders a solid presence in the middle of Oakland's defense. The idea of giving opposing quarterbacks nightmares is something that brings a grin to his face.

"I can't wait. I feel like a rookie again," said Sapp.

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