Originally created 08/06/99

Running backs together again



NAPA, Calif. -- Running backs Napoleon Kaufman, Rashaan Salaam and Tyrone Wheatley were drafted within a span of five picks in the 1995 NFL draft. Now they're competing for playing time in the Oakland Raiders backfield.

Kaufman, drafted 18th by Oakland in 1995, is the incumbent at halfback. Salaam, picked 21st by Chicago, is attempting a comeback with the Raiders.

Wheatley, the 17th pick of the New York Giants, was signed Wednesday by Oakland after being cut by Miami. The Raiders made the move after fullback Zack Crockett broke his right foot.

"I was at the combine together with the other two guys," Kaufman said. "It's awesome, just to see how those guys have grown and everything."

Wheatley remembers going on a college recruiting visit with Kaufman to Colorado, the school where Salaam became a Heisman Trophy winner. And he still remembers the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Kaufman putting on a display of strength during the NFL scouting combine.

"What really, really impressed me was when we went to the combine. His bench press, his reps, were just incredible," Wheatley said. "I love talent, regardless as to what sport it is. And he is definitely a super talent."

Kaufman, who has gained 3,579 yards in four seasons with the Raiders, has had considerably more success in the NFL than either of his peers.

Salaam gained 1,682 yards in little more than two seasons with the Bears, but broke his leg during the 1997 season and hasn't played since.

Wheatley gained 1,280 yards in four often contentious seasons in New York. He was traded to Miami during the offseason and cut by the Dolphins on Tuesday.

"This is football. At any given moment you have to be ready for a move," Wheatley said Thursday after his second practice with the Raiders. "There are always uncertainties and I'm ready for them. I'm just trying to move forward."

Wheatley and Ray Zellars, another member of that 1995 draft class, were signed by the Raiders a day after Crockett was injured. Crockett, who was competing for the starting fullback job with incumbent Jon Ritchie, is expected to be out 4-6 weeks.

Zellars, a second-round pick in 1995, gained 1,351 yards in four seasons with New Orleans and Cincinnati.

"We gave them a couple of plays last night and today we let them run them," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. "We have a long ways to go as far as bringing them up to speed, but they have a lot of talent."

The addition of Wheatley means there are seven players who went to Michigan on the Raiders' roster, including rookies Scott Dreisbach, Marcus Ray and Sam Sword.

"We're hiring Bo Schembechler as a consultant today," Gruden joked, referring to the former Michigan coach.