Monday, July 7, 2008

Building a better Defense

The Oakland Raiders run a base 4-3 defense and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan uses a fair amount of formations and does like to keep offenses guessing, the Raiders didn’t bring a lot of pressure in 2007 like they have in the past, preferring to keep the LB corps and secondary focused on coverage.

The Raiders aren’t a blitz happy team and I doubt that will change but don’t be surprised to see the Raider defense be more aggressive. The team is determined to shore up their run defense. Improving in this area will go a long way toward the team’s success in 2008.

The team needed to get stronger and brought in Strength & Conditioning coach Brad Roll to replace Jeff Fish who left to become the Director of Athletic performance for the Atlanta Falcons.

The start of the Raider practices is much louder with Brad Roll around. He has 16 years of NFL experience and has been a welcome addition to the coaching staff. He has a loud and distinct voice that booms out instructions to the players during team stretches that all 80 players can hear.

Head Coach Lane Kiffin is elated that Brad Roll’s message is getting through to the players loud and clear long before the players take the field. Coach Roll has several players looking different and feeling stronger.

Kiffin has noted and mentioned the physical improvements of several players this offseason. Several Raiders are setting personal bests in the weight room and credit Brad Roll. The increased strength will serve the team well especially the Defensive Line.

I was under the impression that the Raiders would draft a defensive tackle in the 1stround and I was wrong. I don’t have a problem with the team drafting Darren McFadden, he's a homerun hitter so to speak I get it, but I felt the need was there for a DT.

I also thought that a DT would be drafted in the 4thround especially with two picks in that round. I had my eyes on DT Athyba Rubin or Red Bryant but I was wrong again. The sad thing is the team hasn’t drafted a DT in years.

Building a stronger defense has several similarities with building a house. You need to start any structure with a strong foundation, the foundation for the Raider defense needs to be the defensive line more specifically the Defensive Tackle positions.

There are five players that make up the defensive tackle rotation:

Tommy Kelly was hurt last year and missed the majority of the season. The Raiders thought enough of Tommy Kelly to pay him an $18.125 million signing bonus to replace Warren Sapp at the 3-technique tackle, even though Kelly was done after seven games last season with a torn ACL.

Gerard Warren, imported from Denver, seemed to follow his career-long trend of looking alternately sensational and mediocre.

Terdell Sands, counted upon to be a run-stopper on the nose, was beset by family tragedies and had a poor season.

William Joseph, the six year veteran and former NY Giants first round pick in 2003 is hoping to jump start his career.

Josh Shaw has been a fringe lineman that has bounced between the roster and the practice squad.

This is a group of veteran players with something to prove. Terdell Sands is in shape and primed to rebound and have a productive season like he did in 2006. Sands and a healthy Tommy Kelly should serve the defense well.

The Raiders need consistency and solid play from Gerard Warren or he will be replaced. He has looked explosive some weeks and was invisible in others.

I feel that Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands will play great but I have my concerns withGerard Warren and William Joseph due to the unknown factor.

Is Gerard Warren going to play with consistency? Can William Joseph turn his career around and be the impact player several expected him to be when drafted?

This is the time of the year to make improvements and solidify or change team strategy. Every team in the league is working hard to improve and the Oakland Raiders are no different.

All five guys have the size to play the position; it is safe to say that a huge portion of the success or failure of the team’s defense depends on these guys all playing well.

It is too early to tell now but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Raiders brought in another defensive tackle to add to the rotation.

Guys that are available right now are Grady Jackson, Roderick Coleman, Anthony McFarland, and Manuel Wright.

Two of the four mentioned above had their season cut short by injury in 2007. There will more than likely be a few more players to choose from as the training camp rosters are cut down.

Another intriguing player that could improve the defense is MLB Ed Hartwell. If he has recovered from the injuries that have doomed him since he left the Ravens he could help improve two positions.

Hartwell could start at middle linebacker that would allow the Raiders to start Kirk Morrison at SLB where he can become a bigger playmaker.

This shouldn’t be considered a demotion for Kirk Morrison it would simply allow the Raiders to have their best three linebackers in the starting lineup.

The secondary will be solid with the addition of SS Gibril Wilson, Nnamdi Asomugha & DeAngelo Williams at the corners and Michael Huff moving to FS.

Look for Tyvon Branch to make an impact early on special teams but he will also make an impact as a reserve safety.

Contrary to popular belief the new and improved Oakland Raiders will make noise in 2008.

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