Sapp feeling rejuvenated this season

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

ALAMEDA, Calif. - The struggles from his first season in Oakland when he was forced to play out of position are far behind Warren Sapp. So is the rotator cuff injury that cut short last season.
The loquacious defensive tackle that spent much of his career terrorizing opposing offenses is back at it again, trash talking opponents and sacking quarterbacks.
"He's getting back to the old Warren Sapp that we all know," coach Art Shell said.
Sapp might not be at the level he was when he went to seven straight Pro Bowls from 1997-2003, but he is having his best season since winning the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay four years ago.
Sapp said the biggest difference between the current 33-year-old version and the player from Tampa Bay is that he needs more breaks and can only go about 60-to-65 plays a game.
"That was a special guy," Sapp said. "He was something special and I just try to emulate him as many times as I possibly can. I'm far removed from that young guy that was down there doing the special stuff. The tank isn't full but it's still high octane. I can still make some special plays and make a difference in ballgames. ... I got it going right now."
Sapp is coming of a two-sack performance last week against Denver, giving him six on the season - his most since getting 7 1/2 in 2002 to help the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl. Sapp is on pace for his most sacks since getting a career-high 16 1/2 in 2000 for the Bucs.
His play at defensive tackle is a big reason for the Raiders' success on defense this season, even if it has been overshadowed by Oakland's struggles on offense that has left the team with a 2-7 record.
Coming into this week's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders have allowed only five touchdowns the past five weeks.
"Their defense is playing really well. Especially old 99," Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said of Sapp, who played five seasons in Tampa when Edwards was a defensive assistant. "He's a guy I am very familiar with. He was down in Tampa with us. It is good to see him playing good. He looks like he is having fun again and he is playing."
Sapp credits his increased knowledge of the game and techniques opponents used for making up for any loss of physical skill.
Teammate Derrick Burgess, a Pro Bowl defensive end last season, said Sapp's experience makes him better than he was in his glory days in Tampa Bay and is the best defensive tackle he's ever played alongside.
"The thing he brings to the game is tenacity, knowing formations and stuff," Burgess said. "Basically he is wise as a player and believes in helping. He's helping the younger guys with what they need to do. He's probably a little better if you ask me. He is not the same age but he makes up for it with other things."
Sapp was pushed out of Tampa following the 2003 season when the Bucs felt he had lost a step and was no longer the dominant player he once was. The Raiders signed him as a free agent that offseason but moved him from his familiar tackle position in a 4-3 defense to defensive end in the 3-4.
Sapp had a career-low 2 1/2 sacks that season and watched as teams ran through the Raiders with ease. The experiment lasted just one year and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan moved Sapp back to his usual tackle spot where Sapp found his game once again early last season.
"I've always said one thing about my game. I know when I'm playing well and I know when I'm not playing well," Sapp said. "And I was doing exactly what was being asked of me in that 3-4 defensive system. Was it the best system for me? No. I think people involved in it, and people coaching in it, the powers that be in this organization, looked at it and said no and said we can't allow that player to be put in that position to where he can't help this ballclub."
Sapp regained his form early last season and said he truly felt back at home when he got five tackles and a sack in a 38-17 win against Buffalo in the sixth game. He had three sacks and a forced fumble the following week but his season was cut short by a rotator cuff injury three weeks later.
He could only watch as the Raiders lost their last six games of the season on the way to a 4-12 finish. He said he spent every day in the offseason working his way back into shape.
"I have a better appreciation for what I'm doing and the position I'm in because those last six games of last year it was taken away from me," Sapp said. "I had never had football taken away from me by any stretch of the imagination. To sit at home and watch my team and not to be able to help them on a play in, play out basis, I almost broke more TVs than they have at Wal-Mart. I was about to go crazy."
Now he's just back to having fun.