Oakland Raiders: The Proven and Unproven Positions on the Raiders Defense
Jerry Rump – Jun 19, 2012
As the Oakland Raiders wrap up OTA’s and begin to look towards training camp, there are some obvious questions that need answering, or at the very least, further analyzing by us Raider football fanatics. After all, we are honestly just going through the motions this summer, counting the minutes, in rabid anticipation of kickoff this season. Right?
For instance, something to ponder might be just where do the strengths and weaknesses on the Raiders defense lie? Which positions have depth in talent? Also, which positions leave us scratching our heads as to who will step up and start for the team now that the draft and most of the free-agent signings have taken place?
Under the new regime of general manager, Reggie McKenzie, the mission from day one involved a plan devised from an old-school philosophy. Hard work and a hunger to not only earn, but to “regulate” at your job has been the main point of emphasis.
Plain and simple it comes down to one mentality, offense gets you there, but, defense wins you championships!
Reggie therefore chose a defensive head coach in Dennis Allen and together, they went to work, blue collar style, and immediately began revamping the 29th ranked defense in the NFL from last season.
The problem with this scenario is they inherited a defense that leaked everywhere and was lacking any cohesion, or even any sense of identity. It had to be so hard on Mr. McKenzie to call Chuck Bresnahan into his office that day.
I imagine Reggie’s part of the conversation went something like: "A big THANKS Chuck! Brilliant performance old boy, now here’s your pink slip. With a recession and all, we cannot simply afford to keep paying a salary to a man of your extensive UFL expertise. Now KICK ROCKS!”
To their credit though, most Raider fans are staying positive about the changes with the team and the whole three different regimes in three years scenario.
At the same time, in somewhere like Philly, Eagle fans have already started calling for Andy Reids’ head because he’s not on board with the city’s ban of large sodas or something like that.
However, even though a lot of hard-core Raider fans are on board with the plan and early actions of the New Era, certain positions on the defense now have some glaring holes with unproven and/or vastly inexperienced talent having to fill them.
Leaving one to wonder, how well will the defense perform on the field this year?
Case in point, with no Rolando McClain, the smoking bullet is drilled point-blank into the middle linebacker position, as this is this spot exactly where opposing coordinators will target when game-planning now against the Raider defense.
An inexperienced, (and injury prone) Travis Goethel is the leading candidate to fill this vacancy while McClain rehearses for his up-coming role in the latest remake of “The Longest Yard” in Alabama’s penal system and serves out his guaranteed subsequent, season-ending, suspension.
So basically, Travis has to step up and be the man all year long in the middle of the defense. Coming off a season-ending knee injury last season, it’s a sure bet, he will be tested early and often. This is a good thing to watch as we progress into training camp and preseason because his performance has big bearings on the rest of the linebacker positions.
If things do not work with Goethel in the middle, some speculate that Aaron Curry could slide into the spot. He has experience at the position, but he has made a better name for himself playing outside last year for the Raiders.
Continuing with this point, rookie Miles Burris could slide into the hole left by Curry on the outside if Curry had to be moved inside to replace Goethel for any reason. But this means a rookie has to step in and that points as a spot to attack by opposing offenses.
Either way you slice it, the glaring hole points at the lack of experience and/or production at middle linebacker for the team approaching the start of training camp.
Also worth mention is Daryl Blackstock who remains an un-restricted free agent on the roster and has played limited time inside for the Raiders. His position on the team however, could be challenged by rookie, Nathan Stupar, as Blackstock has not really excelled in his time with Raiders.
It is at this point that it must be re-emphasized how much Rolando McClain’s actions have hurt the defense. He really is the best player on the team to play middle linebacker and his absence leaves a spot that really causes headaches for the coaching staff and massive speculation by everyone, (this author included) as to who may fill the void.
Truth is, every linebacker this year has to step up their game, but because it starts in the middle for any linebacking crew to be successful in the NFL, (just ask Baltimore and that team on the wrong side of the bay) this position will be the biggest question mark for the Raiders defense.
Look for the Raiders in 2012 to really mix things up when it comes to the linebacker position as a whole, with plays designed to exploit and attack by changing alignments in order to force offenses to play to the strength of the defense, which is, the front linemen.
The inexperience of playing together, plus add in, that they are learning a new scheme means the linebackers will really need to step up early and play consistent for this defense to be truly effective.
They will surely have to play big when you consider they will face the brutal schedule that this season possesses with opponents that includes the AFC North and NFC South. These make-up most of the non-division matchups and five playoff teams came from these two divisions last year.
Most might look at this "X marks the spot" as a point of weakness scenario the Raiders find themselves in and some maysay that the odds-makers maybe pegged it right at predicting the team to finish 7-9. Not so fast.
By the way, this is where I throw out a shameless plug for you to look no further than the Raider Nation Times home page for valid reasons why the Raiders' defensive scenario can in fact, ruin the naysayers day.
Posts by our fantastic writers such as, John Doublin and David Wilson, detail exactly why the Raider linebackers could very well be the surprise reason everyone outside of the Nation will not see the Silver and Black coming .
One point this author wants to make though, is that all is not lost. Readers may recall not too many people picked Denver’s Von Miller to have quite the season he experienced in 2011.
Or for that matter, the play of the whole Bronco defense, because say what you will, but them boys made Tim Tebow a phenom by keeping opposing offenses out of the endzone.
That was the most painful thing this author has ever had to admit. I am seriously considering retracting that statement.
Oh wait up, there is one big positive from that statement that all in Raider Nation can now taunt the Bronco’s with and it is: "He’s our COACH NOW!”
So, when we shock ya and drop a bomb on your plans to win the division this season, just remember that John Elway was to be busy getting his quarterback, rather than worrying about the orchestrator of his defense. Typical Ex-Quarterback mentality.
Well, he’s wearing Silver and Black now and very much looking forward to showing you a few things he was holding back.
The flip-side of this strongest/weakest coin is that the defensive line is one of the best in the entire league. These guys have what it takes to wear out opposing lines and really punish the quarterback.
The Raiders have the perfect combination of savvy veterans and hungry youngsters this year to once again dominate opponents up-front similar to the way Oprah dominates Steadman.
Between Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant, Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy and Dave Tollefson, these guys truly provide the Silver and Black with a formidable front possessing the talent few, if any, of the other NFL teams can match top to bottom.
The younger group is being lead right now by rookies, Jack Crawford and Bilikido Christo, but don’t count out Clemson’s Jamie Crumbie as the second year player may end up being a name new to the D-line as well.
Watch for these young guns to be earning valuable time in relief and they have been making noise in the team workouts early this offseason.
The defense is definitely deepest talent-wise in the front-line and it should come as no surprise that defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver will use this to his advantage when scheming against the likes of Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and whoever the guy is in Kansas City, Todd Blackledge I think.
Regardless of how well the front linemen play, the linebackers are going to have to stay disciplined and perform their assignments. Stopping the run is crucial to the success of the Raiders' defense and the linebackers must lead the way in this department.
Although young and inexperienced, the linebackers have a deep solid line up front to support them.
The middle of the defense is a spot of deep interest and gives the Raider fanatics some fodder for future discussions besides complaining about how long it takes for the season to roll around..
Truth is, going into this season, no-one but the football gods know how well things will turn out for the new regime. But, one thing is certain, Big Al is in those gods’ faces saying "Just Win Baby!"
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