Barton enjoying this wintry mix: a game, January

Playing in year's 1st month a novelty for Raider, as he went to no bowls as a Terp

Super Bowl XXXVII

Notebook

January 22, 2003|By Jamison Hensley and Ken Murray | Jamison Hensley and Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - Raiders linebacker Eric Barton is making his first bowl game a super one.

The former University of Maryland standout never played in January in college as the Terrapins struggled to a 16-28 record from 1995 to 1998. Now, Barton will play on the pro game's grandest stage as a major force on Oakland's defense.

"It's a great feeling," Barton said. "This is going on to make up for the Orange Bowl and Peach Bowl that I missed out on."

Barton is one of the main reasons for the Raiders' improved defense this season. But surrounded by stars like Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson and Bill Romanowski, Barton easily gets overlooked despite leading the team in tackles (124) as a first-year starter.

As a fifth-round draft pick in 1999, Barton started the final three games that season. He seemed earmarked for the weak-side linebacker job the next year, but the Raiders signed veteran Willie Thomas instead.

Thomas retired after the 2001 season, and Barton was promoted.

"I just want to prove to myself that I could take full advantage of the opportunity that has been given to me," Barton said. "I think that's what I am doing now."

Not like the old boss

Most of the pre-game hype has involved comparisons between Raiders coach Bill Callahan and Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

But Oakland safety Rod Woodson was asked to compare Callahan to Ravens coach Brian Billick. Woodson played under Billick from 1999 to 2001.

"Billick knew everything and Callahan doesn't," Woodson said with a smile. "[Billick] told us that, too."

Baltimore flavor

Besides Woodson and Sam Adams, the Raiders have other former Ravens in backup cornerback Clarence Love and reserve linebacker Tim Johnson.

Love, who will play some in Oakland's dime packages, was a member of the Ravens' Super Bowl championship team in 2000 but was inactive for all but one game that season.

Johnson, a special teams performer, was a Raven for the first week of the 2001 regular season before getting cut. He is best remembered for his Shannon Sharpe impersonation during the rookie talent show on the Hard Knocks television show. After being released by the Ravens, he bounced around from the Chicago Bears to NFL Europe to the Raiders.

"I play for the Raiders but I also play for the league," said Johnson, who has six special teams tackles this season. "I want to show the Ravens and Chicago Bears who they cut."

Advantage, Bucs

The Bucs are playing down the advantage of familiarity they have with Gruden, who coached the Raiders four years before coming to Tampa this season.

"Nothing ever stays the same," Gruden said. "They have really made some significant changes on defense, not only in their personnel, but in the structure of their defense. Offensively, they have taken it to another level."

Nevertheless, it is Gruden's offense the Raiders run, and the Bucs see a form of that offense every day in practice.

"Schemes are made to be broken," said Bucs pass rusher Simeon Rice. "I think we can take advantage of a few things, but we'll see."

Walking softly

Tampa Bay's Malcolm Glazer maintains a low profile and essentially allows his sons to run the franchise.

"He's definitely quiet as opposed to Jerry Jones or some of the other colorful owners who tend to be in the public more," said Bucs center Jeff Christy. "I just relate it to a corporation - not every business is run the same. Some guys are big motivators and some guys hire someone to motivate and the Glazers tend to take the laid-back role more."

Glazer was among a group attempting to land an expansion franchise for Baltimore in the early 1990s.

Selecting Gannon

Gruden gets credit for bringing quarterback Rich Gannon to Oakland in 1999. As a free agent in Kansas City, Gannon also considered the Denver Broncos.

Said Gruden: "There were a lot of things that Paul Hackett, who was the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs at that time, filled me in on: a real competitive vibe, a great charisma, a passion for the game and a dynamic playing ability. He just felt that Rich needed a shot and he's a winner."

Changing style

The Bucs' defense has become more aggressive under Gruden because defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has more freedom now than he had under coach Tony Dungy.

"It seems like it is a whole lot more aggressive," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "The defense hasn't changed too dramatically in a year, but Monte, he's calling the plays he wants to call.

"When we get in third- and fourth-down situations, we are lining up and playing man-to-man with all the guys on the line of scrimmage. It is fun for us. It looks more aggressive and you get more aggressive plays because of it."

Shorts

The Bucs are 2-1 vs. common opponents (St. Louis, Pittsburgh, San Francisco) to Oakland's 1-2. ... Tampa is 18-10 against the AFC over the last seven years. ... The Bucs were highly successful against running quarterbacks this season, holding them to 42 yards on 21 carries, with a long run of 8. ... The Bucs are 5-7 lifetime in the playoffs to Oakland's 25-17.

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