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It is a strange new world that Lance Johnstone returns to. When he was drafted in 1996, Oakland was on the decline but he helped lead the resurgence befor e he was let go. Now he returns to the Raiders - a team that has been in disarray over the last three years.

A decade after wondering if the Oakland Raiders knew what they were doing taking a stand-up linebacker from Temple University and making him a defensive end, Lance Johnstone is back where he started.

Lance Johnstone sits in a locker directly across from the one he used to occupy six years ago and doesn't seem at all surprised.

"It was always in the back of my mind that I'd end up here," Johnstone said.

When Johnstone left the Raiders following the 2000 season, they were coming off the first of three consecutive AFC West titles and a loss in the conference championship game.

The team Johnstone returns to has fallen on hard times, with a 13-35 record that is the worst stretch in franchise history. There are only six familiar faces on the roster -- and none of them are on defense.

Offensive players still around from Johnstone's last season are linemen Adam Treu and Barry Sims, wide receiver Jerry Porter, running back Zack Crockett and kickers Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler -- both of whom were rookies.

"It's amazing how things change in five years," Johnstone said.

One thing that remains the same is Johnstone's role -- he is a situational edge rusher who isn't stout enough at 250-plus pounds to be a base end, but who can fly in from the outside on third-and-long.

Johnstone is a classic Raider draft-day tale, a linebacker from a losing program who was envisioned as something else by Al Davis. In Johnstone's case, Davis' hunch in the second round has led to a 70-sack career.

Last season, Johnstone was credited with a career-low 15 tackles but still had seven sacks. The thought of joining the Raiders, with NFL sack leader Derrick Burgess around to come hard from the opposite side, was alluring to Johnstone.

"The best years I've had have always been when you have another good pass rusher with you," Johnstone said. "Hopefully we get (Warren) Sapp coming off his injury and we'll have three real good pass rushers in there and get Tommy (Kelly) going a little bit. We can do some things."

Johnstone signed a multi-million dollar contract extension with the Raiders the year before he was waived after injuries slowed his play in 2000.

He said there were never any hard feelings.

"I understand the business side of this whole thing," Johnstone said. "I've never had any ill will, and I still had a lot of friends on the team. It was just one of those situations. That's why it was no big deal to come back."


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