NFL comes down hard on Russell

The news that the Raiders had been expecting but hoped wouldn't come finally arrived Wednesday when the NFL announced it had suspended defensive tackle Darrell Russell one full calendar year for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Russell, a two-time Pro Bowler and a former first-round draft pick, was at the team's practice facilities in Alameda and attended meetings Wednesday morning before being notified of the league's decision. By the time players began dressing for the afternoon practice, Russell's locker had been cleared out entirely. It is the second time this season that Russell has been suspended. He missed the first four games of the schedule after reportedly testing positive for marijuana and then later missing a league-mandated drug test. His latest run-in with NFL watchdogs came after Russell allegedly tested positive for the drug Ecstasy. It first came to light prior to Oakland's game against the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 2. Though Russell refused to speak on the allegations, referring all questions to his agent Leigh Steinberg, he and a lawyer flew to New York the following week for an appeal at the league's offices. With the Raiders one week from the playoffs and still jockeying for a first-round bye, some players questioned the timing of the league's decision to suspend Russell. ''It is bad timing,'' said defensive lineman Roderick Coleman, who will inherit Russell's starting position. ''There's been a lot of nonsense that he's had to deal with. It's been a tough season on him.'' The NFL issued a three-sentece statement on the matter: ''Defensive tackle Darrell Russell of the Oakland Raiders was notified today that he is suspended for one calendar year for violating the NFL Substance Abuse Policy. Russell's suspension begins immediately. Under the terms of the policy, he is eligible to be reinstated by the Commissioner no sooner than Jan. 2, 2003.'' Russell was already on shaky grounds with the organization, partly because of his earlier offenses and partly because of his up-and-down performance. Though he is scheduled to make $9 million in base salary next season, Russell won't earn a penny of it while suspended. The Raiders will more than likely get a salary cap exemption, which would give the team flexibility next season to sign another defensive lineman. But that doesn't help the team now. In Russell's absence, Coleman and Grady Jackson will start at defensive tackle. Rookie Chris Cooper, who has been playing exclusively at defensive end the past few weeks, is likely to also play some at tackle much like he did earlier in the season when Russell was first suspended. Oakland also has Josh Taves, Junior Ioane and DeLawrence Grant to lean on. Whichever way the team goes, the timing of the suspension couldn't have come at a more difficult time for the Raiders. Russell had been playing his best football of the season when the suspension came down and had played a significant role in the recent turnaround of Oakland's defense. ''It's a cruel world,'' said Jackson. ''It's sad.'' PRO BOWL SELECTIONS MADE Quarterback Rich Gannon, wide receiver Tim Brown, cornerack Charles Woodson, right tackle Lincoln Kennedy and punter Shane Lechler were all named to the AFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday. Starters won't be named until halftime of the AFC Wild Card game on Jan. 12. The league did not announce alternates for the game, though Oakland reportedly landed wide receiver Jerry Rice, left guard Steve Wisniewski and kicker Sebastian Janikowski on that list as well. NOTES The news continued to get worse for the Raiders as the day went on. Rice did not attend practice Wednesday and was instead in Mississippi attending to his ailing father, while Janikowski, according to team officials, has been hospitalized with a case of cellulitis in his kicking foot. Janikowski was hospitalized for the same thing last year as a rookie. In 2000 punter Shane Lechler assumed the kicking chores for one game while Janikowski was hospitalized. Oakland then signed Brett Conway to handle the job until Janikowski returned.

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