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CB Allen nearly a Buc

By MARC TOPKIN and ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 13, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Oakland's Eric Allen has been, and continues to be, one of the best overall cornerbacks in the league.

From what he said Friday, he could have been a Buccaneer.

Desperate to leave New Orleans after the 1997 season, Allen had permission from the Saints to work out a trade and said the Bucs were on his short list.

"Monte Kiffin, who was my coordinator in New Orleans when I was there, went down there and that was one of the teams I was interested in going to," Allen said. "But that was a long time ago."

Allen's departure was complicated. He had talks with San Francisco while the Saints struck a deal with Minnesota. And when it all got cleared up, Allen ended up in Oakland and has been a cornerstone of the Raiders defense. The Bucs signed Anthony Parker.

IN THIS CORNER ... : Just how much respect do the Raiders have for Baltimore's all-world linebacker, Ray Lewis? "I don't call him Ray Lewis, I call him Lennox Lewis," Oakland coach Jon Gruden said Friday. "He will knock you out."

INJURY UPDATE: Gruden said he would remain "optimistic and hopeful" that running back Napoleon Kaufman, out with a knee injury, can play, but admitted the prospects were doubtful. Defensive end Regan Upshaw (ankle) returned to practice Friday and should start.

RETURN LINE: The Raiders are appropriately wary of Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis, who led the league in punt returns. "Jermaine Lewis is a loaded gun, no question about that," Gruden said. "I've seen him explode on people over the years." To limit Lewis, the Raiders are talking about refining their coverage and instructing punter Shane Lechler to aim for the sideline.

COMFORT FROM DILFER: The Ravens flew into San Francisco without incident, and coach Brian Billick, quarterback Trent Dilfer and safety Rod Woodson crossed the bay in a helicopter to attend an evening news conference.

"I had to hold Rod's hand because he was a little scared, but outside of that it was fun," Dilfer said. "We were kind of low to water and didn't go up too high so we couldn't get too scared."

FAN SUPPORT: Billick said he wouldn't mind seeing a vocal crowd of Ravens fans amid the notorious Raiders supporters on Sunday, but he cautioned them not to get too carried away.

"If they are as exuberant as they were in Tennessee, and we're able to move on, they won't be in Tampa because they won't get out of the stadium alive," Billick said. "I tried to tell those guys you have to low-profile here. I don't know if they will or not, but I've been here before. I've been here as a fan, I've watched games here and I been with other teams in here and it's an experience."

SHARPE ABSENT: Billick said tight end Shannon Sharpe did not travel with the team because he attended a funeral. He is expected to join the team today.

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