Don't count Upshaw out just yet

Word out of Oakland is that the Raiders are holding out hope that defensive end Regan Upshaw might not have to miss the entire 2002 season as once thought. But even if Upshaw can rejoin the team in October, as some team officials have speculated, that won't help the team during the first half of the season when they'll face the likes of Kordell Stewart, Steve McNair and Kurt Warner.

Upshaw, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a freak accident during the team's recent mandatory mini-camp, underwent surgery earlier this week to repair his torn ACL. Upshaw originally told reporters he was through for the season, saying the injury would likely need six months of rehabillitation to heal.

But Upshaw's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen have both been quoted in recent days saying there is a possibility that Upshaw, the team's leader in sacks in 2001, could make it back to the lineup sooner. They pointed to the case of center Barret Robbins, who suffered a torn ACL during Oakland's second game last year and was placed on injured reserve, though Robbins and team officials later felt he could have rejoined the team in time for its playoff run in December.

Still, for every Robbins are five other players whose torn ACL was severe enough that they were not able to make a speedy recovery. A lot will be determined how quickly Upshaw is able to go from surgery recovery into rehabillitation. Unlike some Raiders defensive linemen in the past, Upshaw is considered to have a solid and steady work ethic. And a day after injuring his knee at the mini-camp, Upshaw was all smiles and full of optimism.

Now the ball is in his court. How hard he works will go a long way in determining whether or not Upshaw makes it back in time for the 2002 season.

The Raiders, meanwhile, also have their work cut out. A pass rush that was already suspect to begin with even before Upshaw's injury, is suddenly even more devoid of threat. Trace Armstrong's return after missing all of 2001 with an Achilles injury, should help but he's only going to be a situational down player.

With little left of the free agent table, Oakland is going to have to squeeze all it can out of younger players like Chris Cooper, DeLawrence Grant and rookie Kenyon Coleman.

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