Wheatley coming back, but Woodson may be out

The Raiders expect to have running back Tyrone Wheatley back at practice this week, but the news continues to be grim regarding cornerback Charles Woodson.

While Wheatley is expected to work out with his Oakland teammates Wednesday for the first time in more than a month, Woodson will skip the workouts while resting his nagging turf-toe injury. Whether or not that will help Woodson's chances of playing in Sunday's game against the New York Giants remains to be seen. Woodson did not practice last week and instead wore a protective boot around his foot, though he did play -- and played well, in fact -- in the Raiders win over San Diego. ''We're going to have to work through this the best way we can,'' said Oakland head coach Jon Gruden. ''Obviously his practice reps will be limited throughout the remainder of the season. What he did (against the Chargers), under the circumstances, was a real tribute to his toughness, and his state of mind was excellent.'' Woodson's injury could mean more playing time for nickel back Tory James. James leads the Raiders with three interceptions this season while playing in a back-up role to Woodson and Oakland's other starting cornerback, Eric Allen. While he will undoubtedly be on the Raiders injury report the rest of the season, a decision on whether or not Woodson will play this Sunday in New York probably won't be made until just prior to kickoff. ''He's a big part of our defense,'' Gruden said. ''He's a big part of our football team, I'm not going to deny that. You can do some things and build some coverages and some looks around him. Certainly we feel good about our depth and the secondary people that we do have, but there are very few guys who have the ability that Charles Woodson has. So we're concerned and we'll continue to be (concerned) over this injury. We're going to do the best we can to work ourselves through it and get as much out of him as possible.'' The Raiders running game, which has yet to resemble the top-ranked attack Oakland owned a year ago, should get a lift from the return of Wheatley. Wheatley has not practiced nor played since suffering a hip and leg injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 14. Gruden indicated Monday that Wheatley should practice this week. He was expected to return to Oakland's lineup last week but fell ill and was held out of the workouts. ''We expect to have him back for this game,'' said Gruden. ''He needs to get a good week (of practice) under his belt. Hopefully we'll launch him back into circulation in New York.'' RICE FEELING AT HOME: Wide receiver Jerry Rice has been embraced with open arms by the Raiders faithful, which was not exactly a given considering Rice spent the first 16 years of his NFL career playing for the San Francisco 49ers. Raiders fans haven't always taken kindly to the 49ers organization, particularly any former 49er player. But since Rice signed with Oakland in the offseason, he's received nothing but a warm welcome from the crowd at Networks Associates Coliseum. ''This place is wild, man. It's wild and I love it,'' said Rice, referring to the crowd at the Net. ''The fans stand up probably the entire time. You look around and see a lot of painted faces and a lot of excitement going on. Not saying in San Francisco we didn't have that. It's just a whole different type of environment. ''This is the ultimate. When we take the field you feel the energy and you know you have a lot of die-hards.''

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