The four Oakland Raiders who reportedly tested positive for the designer steroid THG will not face suspension this season but in spite of their reprieve the damage has already been done.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a memo Thursday that indicated that any positive tests on urine samples taken before Oct. 6 -- the date the NFL began including THG among the substances banned by the league -- would not result in suspensions from games "during the remainder of the 2003 season."
The mandate did not mention defensive tackles Dana Stubblefield and Chris Cooper, center Barret Robbins or linebacker Bill Romanowski. The NFL has not acknowledged the original CBS report last weekend of failed drug tests. All four were subpoenaed to testify before a San Francisco grand jury probing Balco Laboratories, a Burlingame sports-nutrition center.
The feeling here is that those four individuals as well as the Raiders will continue with that black eye for the foreseeable future. The mere fact that they were associated with those allegations coupled with the breech in confidentiality is damaging.
Other than exhibition games, the last time Eric Johnson saw any significant playing time outside of special teams was his senior year at Nebraska. Romanowski and now Travian Smith sustaining season ending injuries will press Johnson into duty Sunday against Kansas City and perhaps beyond.
Johnson has mostly be a special teams performer since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2000. Johnson, who played mostly weakside in college, will start at the strongside spot. He is listed as a linebacker/safety.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Johnson said. "They run the ball real well. They have a real explosive offense. I think they have the best offensive linemen in the NFL besides ours."
The Raiders converted Johnson to safety as a rookie and then as a cornerback the next season before making him a hybrid linebacker/safety. Johnson is undersized by linebacker standards at 220, which could make him an inviting target for the Chiefs massive line leading the way for Priest Holmes.
"I don't think they'll change the game plan for one player," Oakland starting middle linebacker Napoleon Harris said. "They're going to try to get the ball to their playmakers."
More Gruden/Keyshawn banter
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decision to deactivate wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson in large part because of his continuing feud with head coach Jon Gruden, who coached Oakland from 1998-2001, is still a topic of conversation. No. 2 quarterback Rob Johnson, who was a Buc last season, saw Gruden and Johnson clash.
"I know Keyshawn had his house up for sale last year," Johnson said. "He's just more vocal about his dislike now."
Current Raider Jerry Porter spent two seasons feuding with Gruden before enjoying a breakout season in 2002.
"Porter didn't have the right to speak as much as Keyshawn," Oakland wide receiver Tim Brown said while talking to a group of reporters with Porter peering over his shoulder.
Brown continued while looking at Porter: "If Gruden stayed here, wouldn't the same thing have happened?"
Porter responded: "Damn right!"
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org