Inside slant

If there was a major disappointment in their free agent acquisitions a year ago that disappointment's name was Ron Stone.

Injured in the second practice in training camp, didn't play a down in the exhibitions, lasted less than half a season before the knee gave out again, Stone existed as living witness to the warnings that followed him out of San Francisco -- that he wasn't exactly the kind of guy who would lay down his soul for the team. Any team.

When he was released for salary cap purposes earlier this month, few expected him to be back. He may have been a one-time Pro Bowler (Giants 2000-01 and 49ers 2002), but in 2004 he was a 25 percenter -- good for about six weeks out of a 25-week season. All this after signing a three-year $8.5 million free agent deal last spring.

And so, when the Raiders re-signed him less than two weeks later it came as something of a surprise to those who had witnessed his 2004 pratfall. The Raiders had actually finished the season with a solid offensive line without him.

Until the combination of veteran Brad Badger at left guard and rookie Jake Grove at right guard, the position had been a total disaster for Oakland. In addition to Stone, they lost start left guard Frank Middleton to a torn quadriceps and Stone's predecessor as starter on the right side, Mo Collins, to a badly deteriorated knee. All were ultimately released.

So now, it leaves open to the imagination what the Raiders have in mind for the 6-4, 325-pound Stone, previously considered a liability whereas Middleton and Collins, at least, were contributory facets of the Raider offense -- particularly in 2002 when the Raiders went to the Super bowl based on a prolific offense.

Although there is plenty of time for it to all work its way out, here's what it likely means if Stone is still considered a potential starter:

It means the Raiders are ready to move Grove, who played out of position at guard last year, in as their starting center.

It means Adam Treu, who finally got an entire season as the starting starter after filling in three different times for the star-crossed Barret Robbins, is out as a starter and will resume his duties as backup and trusted long snapper.

It probably means Langston Walker, the former second round draft choice who was ousted from starting at right tackle by rookie phenom Robert Gallery in Week 2 last year, may NOT get the fast-track re-assignment to right guard, as many have speculated.

Or, the re-signing of Stone may merely mean the Raiders aren't ready to give up on their original evaluation of Stone -- that he is still the same player who, the last time he lasted an entire season, was named to the Pro Bowl.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Former Raiders still making news:

* Lawyers for linebacker Bill Romanowski and tight end Marcus Williams have been slinging accusations back and forth in the $3.8 million lawsuit Williams filed in the aftermath of the August 2003 practice field incident in which Romanowski punched Williams, fracturing his eye socket.

While Romanowski's attorneys called it an unfortunate aftermath of a common practice field dust-up, Williams' attorneys are claiming it was an outright assault that ended Williams' career.

A forensic economist testified this week that Williams suffered as much as $8.7 million in potential earnings and as little as $1.68 million.

Romanowski's attorneys claim Williams was a marginal NFL player and challenge he could expect a long-time NFL career.

* One-time center Barret Robbins is apparently out of danger, his attorney, Ed O'Donnell, after two months in a Miami hospital recovering from chest wounds the result of being shot by police on Jan. 15.

Robbins shows no signs of paralysis and is off a respirator but remains in police custody at Jackson Memorial Hospital awaiting an eventual court date where he will be charged with assault on a police officer.

According to O'Donnell, Robbins is still unable to respond verbally and can only nod his head, however he added, his physical recovery has been "miraculous."

Robbins suffers from a bi-polar condition which has been shown to be exacerbated by alcohol use.

-- RB Tyrone Wheatley was released by the team the first week of March but says he's not sweating it.

"Right now, I'm trying to recover from surgery on my shoulder and just waiting it out," he said.

Wheatley injured his shoulder in the Raiders' fourth game last year and although he returned only to injure a hamstring and only played in eight games, the shoulder continued to be a concern.

Wheatley's release, which came just before the team signed free agent LaMont Jordan, would hint that he was no longer in the club's plans however, coach Norv Turner said many players released in salary cap moves at the time could be re-signed later. One, guard Ron Stone, already has re-joined the team.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've switched back to Number 18. That's the number I came into the NFL with. I'm going back to the number that got me into this league dangerous. I want to get back to being a dangerous football player and not just a wide receiver." -- WR Randy Moss.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

1. Defensive end. In 15 of their games, the Raiders had just 18 sacks, which made it easy to forget that in the 16th game they had seven (against Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe). Since the team ranked 30th in pass defense with a flock of former first round picks playing DB, the need for pressure up front is paramount. With the top free agent pass rushers disappearing off the landscape in early moves, the draft will have to provide this need.

2. Linebacker. They could rely on that pass rush push from a gifted outside linebacker provided they stay with the 3-4 that didn't materialize as was expected in '04.

3. Quarterback. With Rich Gannon apparently on the way out as of June 1, the Raiders may move to the middle of the draft or free agency to seek out a possible No. 3 quarterback. Currently, they only have practice squad types in David Rivers and Bret Engemann.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Charles Woodson.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Jarrod Cooper; RB Chris Downs (not tendered as ERFA); DE Bobby Hamilton; FB Chris Hetherington; RB J.R. Redmond; OT Chad Slaughter; SS David Terrell; RB Amos Zereoue.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: SS Marques Anderson; LB Tim Johnson.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: WR Ronald Curry; S Keyon Nash; QB David Rivers; WR John Stone.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Jerry Porter; OG Ron Stone.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Derrick Burgess; RB LaMont Jordan; WR Randy Moss.

PLAYERS LOST: CB Ray Buchanan; LB DeLawrence Grant; LB Napoleon Harris; OG Frank Middleton; DT John Parrella; RB Tyrone Wheatley; TE Roland Williams.


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