Darrell Russell draws suspension

The NFL announced it had suspended Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy

The Raiders will be without defensive tackle Darrell Russell for the first month of the upcoming season after the NFL announced it had suspended Russell for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Russell, a two-time Pro Bowler and one of Oakland's defensive team captains who had already been in Stage 1 of the league's policy, apparently failed to report for a mandatory drug test prior to the start of the 2000 season. As a result, under NFL rules, that was equal to a failed test.

‘'I did not test positive. Someone showed up at my house to notify (me) and I wasn't there. But this is an unfortunate mishap and all I can do is try to turn this negative into a positive. Use the four games to my advantage and get in better shape so I can come back and help my team the most to the best of my ability.''

Russell will miss Oakland's first four games and will lose close to $450,000 in salary as a result of his suspension. More importantly to the Raiders, it leaves the team with a void in the middle of its defensive line. Grady Jackson, who started alongside Russell last season, is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and only recently was cleared to return to full practice.

The Raiders still have plenty of depth behind the two starters but most of it is inexperienced. Roderick Coleman played as a regular part of the defensive line rotation and will could likely move into a starting role this year. Josh Taves also played extensively as a back-up last year, but beyond that Oakland has very little in the way of experienced depth.

‘'Everybody's been talking about the depth of our defensive line and this will give us an opportunity to prove just how deep it is,'' said head coach Jon Gruden. ‘'Obviously it's a big loss to our football team but we will not ever use this as an excuse. We're going to rev it up and some guys have to step up in his absence. We're going to support him and hopefully he can come back with this resolved and resume what I think is going to be a tremendous NFL career.

‘'This is embarrassing for myself, my family, my friends and my team. This is going to be a good way to weed out all the real friends I have and all the fake friends.''

Russell will continue to practice with the Raiders during the preseason and can play in the preseason games. But once the regular season begins Russell is banned from practices, team meetings and games.

The suspension ends on Oct. 1, the day after Oakland's fourth game of the season (against Seattle). Russell will rejoin his teammates during their bye week and be eligible to play Oct. 14 at Indianapolis.

Russell had already tested positive for marijuana once in his career, though his agent, Leigh Steinberg, claimed Russell had not been guilty of actually smoking it.

‘'I'm saying that the whole issue might be second-hand smoke,'' Steinberg said. ‘'I think what occurred at some point is that in the past he perhaps didn't chose his friends (carefully) … they were not given to the same strictures as he was. Let's leave it at that.''

Whatever the case, because he had tested positive Russell was declared a Stage 1 participant in the league's substance abuse policy. When he failed to show for a mandatory test last year, it constituted a failed test.

‘'I definitely have a problem when I've been suspended for four games and I didn't test positive for anything,'' Russell said. ‘'But they have their rules. They also don't like us to wear long towels and I'm against that.

‘'This has been very stressful for me. I've always tried to represent myself and my team to the best of my ability. I spend a lot of time talking to kids and I have my foundation. The last thing I want is my name to be tarnished, especially if I haven't made a mistake. If I had tested positive, throw the book at me, and I think that everything that comes with that should be given, but that's not the case. However there was a rule that was made and obviously I broke it.''

Raiders defensive end Trace Armstrong is president of the NFL Players Association and defended the league's substance abuse policy, which was agreed to by the league and players in 1993.

‘'The policy was developed by the players association and the league. We consulted, when it was developed, leading specialists in the world in this area and the policy is the policy,'' Armstrong said. ‘'Guys know the rules once you get in and it's pretty much all I have to say about it.''

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