Sunday, May 18, 2008

Oakland Raiders: Improving a Defense

Raider Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, son of infamously feisty defensive guru Buddy Ryan is a proponent of the 3-4 defenses, although he isn’t married to the scheme. He was much maligned in 2007 when the Raider defense regressed from making a great amount of progress in 2006 and it was rumored that he would be fired until Al Davis intervened.

It can’t be overstated that Rob Ryan’s knowledge of defense is vast. He spent three years in New England as the Outside Linebackers coach learning the system under Bill Belichick & Romeo Crennel. He probably knew more X’s and O’s as a teen that some assistant coaches absorb.

The defense needs to become more versatile. The Raiders tried to employ a Hybrid 3-4 defense when Rob Ryan arrived in 2004 and failed miserably due to a combination of things, players not having a grasp of the defense and the lack of the proper personnel.

That has now changed and don't be surprised to see the Raiders implement a 3-4 defense. I wrote a story titled "Change of Defensive Philosophy" months ago saying that it was coming.

It was mentioned that the Raiders had tweaked the defense which could be interpreted several ways. I feel that some of those tweaks will improve the Raider defense; they could be using a fair amount of formations to keep offenses guessing. The use of multiple looks that will show one look and then shift to another prior to the snap. One option could be more blitz packages out of their 4-3 defense. Another option could be implementing the vaunted Bear 46.

The Raiders have added veteran additions to shore up the secondary in Gibril Wilson & DeAngelo Hall. The most recent additions were way under the radar but are ones with small risk that could bring huge rewards.

The Raiders have added veteran DE Greg Spires and veteran SLB Edgerton Hartwell. The team has had a huge need at the two positions for quite some time. The Raiders have used the combination of Robert Thomas & Sam Williams at SLB and as much as I like both players the position could be upgraded.

LB Ed Hartwell if healthy will solidify the SLB position. He has played MLB and could get a shot there moving Kirk Morrison to the SLB position. Either way if healthy he would help improve the defense by helping to improve the SLB position.

He is 6’1” 250lbs. He has good lower-body strength, takes excellent pursuit angles and reads and reacts quickly. Plays with good leverage; rarely is knocked down. Active in the box, stacks and sheds well and is an explosive hitter. Bottom line is he is a solid run stopper capable of making plays from sideline to sideline.

The Raiders needed to replace DE Chris Clemons who left via free agency; the Raiders have accomplished that task by signing Greg Spires. Greg Spires is a 10 year veteran who has chalked up 39.5 career sacks and has forced 11 fumbles.
He plays smart and understands blocking angles. He does a good job of not letting blockers get into his body. Has a variety of moves and does a good job of setting up blockers.

He may not be as gifted physically as most ends, but his instincts, intelligence and aggressiveness makes him a good fit for the Raiders. These two veterans bring to the table attributes that the Raiders haven’t had at these positions in a long time. I know it is early but my bet is on both being defensive starters one opposite Derrick Burgess and the other as the SLB in week one.

The DE position will now have a tremendous amount of competition in training camp with Derek Burgess, Greg Spires, Jay Richardson, Kalimba Edwards, Trevor Scott, Tranell Morant, Greyson Gunheim, and Derrick Gray.

The team now has five veteran players in the defensive tackle rotation Tommy Kelly, Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands and William Joseph, Josh Shaw. These guys all have something to prove and 2008 is the time to do it. These guys aren’t the most feared DT rotation in the league but they do have the size and talent to be very effective.

It was mentioned that Terdell Sands lost a member of his family last year. As much as I wouldn’t want to wish that upon anyone, I don’t know if that is true. What I do know is that could be a reason for the lack of focus last year but not for the poor technique displayed after showing so much promise in 2006.

This isn’t being mentioned as an excuse but like Javon Walker and anyone else who has lost a family member or close friend when something like this happens it is very difficult to keep your mind on football while grieving.

Going into training camp this is a good snap shot of the two deep depth chart on defense. The competition at every position will be intense. A successful training camp will provide the defense with good mix of youth and experience and an aggressive unit that will stop the run and get after the QB and make noise in 2008. The hope is that a few free agents make the team and at youth to the special teams as well.

DE Derrick Burgess, Trevor Scott
DT Tommy Kelly, William Joseph
DT Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands
DE Jay Richardson, Greg Spires, Tranell Morant
WLB Thomas Howard, Sam Williams
MLB Kirk Morrison, Robert Thomas
SLB Ed Hartwell, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila
LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, Stanford Routt
SS Gibril Wilson, Tyvon Branch
FS Michael Huff, Stuart Schweigert
RCB DeAngelo Hall, Chris Johnson

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