The Raiders defense had flashes of being a good unit in 2013, but they wound up finishing 21st overall, 27th against the pass and 10th against the run. The lack of pass rush and depth across the board cost them several games in which they led going into the 4th quarter and that ultimately spelled their doom. Defensive Coordinator, Jason Tarver had to get creative with his LBs and DBs to generate pass rush and that wound up leaving him vulnerable in the passing game. Injuries to Safeties Tyvon Branch and Usama Young, and rookie CB DJ Hayden further complicated matters.
The 2014 squad is considerably better than the team from the last two years. The Seattle Seahawks gave everyone an undeniable reminder of how to play defense and GM Reggie McKenzie is following that template. With that in mind, what should we expect to see from the Raiders defense?
Let’s look at the 3 major parts of the defense for the answers:
McKenzie went out and signed two defensive ends in Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley. These two veteran players are still at the top of their game. They both bring championship caliber experience to a once benign pass rush. They can play out of the 4-3 or 3-4 set, which makes this defense very versatile. With the defensive tackles, versatile DL Antonio Smith and the newest additions able to rotate in and out, they have the depth to keep fresh, talented personnel on the field deep into the game. Throw in 1st round pick, LB Khalil Mack who is able to line up at defensive end and you have the ability to generate a ton of pass rush from all sides while shutting down the running game. This is something that the Raiders have been lacking for a long time.
The competition within this group looks to be very good going into Training Camp. Most of them are very young and will learn from some of the best in the business:
This group was the strength of the Raiders defense last season, despite injuries to Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris. The tandem of veterans Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett teamed up with Sio Moore and the result was a pretty solid unit. They were left out to dry by the poor units in front of and behind them. They have gotten even better with the veterans Roach and Burnett returning, Maiava and Burris back healthy and the addition of Rookie, Khalil Mack.
All of the linebackers can stop the run and drop back into coverage. They can not only meet and greet any receiver who dares to enter their realm, they can all get to the quarterback. This is a fairly young group with a lot of camp competition upcoming and those who make the team will earn it. Here is the list:
This group struggled mightily last year. Not because it was necessarily a bad group, but because it lacked depth. When Safeties Tyvon Branch and Usama Young both were lost to injury, this group basically fell apart. Further damage was done when Hayden got injured too. Coupled with lack of a real pass rush, it was basically the un-doing of the Raiders Defense.
McKenzie has done some solid work revamping this unit. Veteran CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are replacing Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, who were mediocre with the Raiders. Second year CB, D.J. Hayden reported to OTAs looking much more the part of the shutdown corner he was drafted to be. At Safety, Veteran Charles Woodson was retained to be the leader and mentor for the young secondary. Usama Young was also retained and Tyvon Branch is back healthy.
McKenzie has added a lot of versatile, promising players to compete for roster spots. As with every position, the best will make it, and this group stands to be one of the most improved secondaries in the league.
There are once again a lot of new faces on this defense, and they will have to learn to gel as a unit. Basically what we should see is a well balanced defensive team, capable of sacking the QB, disrupting receivers, stopping the run and generating some turnovers. Tarver should be able to mix things up between the 3-4 and 4-3 set. He should be able to disguise his coverages and coupled with the much improved pass rush, pressure the QB into some sacks, incomplete passes and interceptions.