The Oakland Raiders are counting heavily on Ted Washington and Warren Sapp, who signed as free agents from New England and Tampa Bay respectively, to help improve a defensive unit that was horrendous last season. Oakland yielded 156 yards per game on the ground one season after being the third-best run defense in the NFL, in large part because of John Parrella's acquisition as a free agent from San Diego. Parrella helped Oakland reach the Super Bowl that season.
Parrella, however, was one of 13 Raiders to finish the 2003 season on injured reserve. Parrella sustained a groin injury in Oakland's 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears on October 5th. That loss dropped the Raiders to 2-3 and they never recovered. The injury, which took place while chasing quarterback Kordell Stewart, was so severe that the muscle was torn from the bone.
Despite the extent of that injury, Parrella rehabbed constantly in hoping he would return at some point but Oakland placed him on injured reserve in mid December. The 34-year old Parrella, known for his maniacal work ethic, added that he made progress but not enough to be ready for contact.
"If you play ‘tough guy' you're risking coaching peewee football," Parrella said during the Raiders three-day minicamp Friday. "There's never looking back. Ihe only doubt I had was that I didn't want to miss a game as opposed to 10. I'm the ultimate team guy and I just want to win."
Perhaps, the fact that the Raiders season became a lost cause as it progressed made the decision to put Parrella on IR that much easier. Before last season, Parrella had not missed a game – or practice – in his NFL career because of injury.
"It was harder, (if anything)," Parrella said. "I wanted to help the guys. They weren't trying to get beat. There was nothing I could do. I just had to let it heal up. They got better every day and every week. I think it was early December I did some warm-ups. I thought I could maybe go but the smartest thing was to shut it down."
If Washington, Sapp and Parrella stay healthy, Oakland could have a menacing trio of defensive tackles. Rob Ryan, who is the Raiders new defensive coordinator, is expected to have them employ more 3-4 alignments. Parrella could possibly play at defensive end in some of those situations.
Even with the heralded acquisitions of Washington and Sapp, a healthy Parrella would be a bonus.