Friday, August 28, 2009

Oakland Raiders - Will The Lack of Talent at Defensive Tackle be the Raiders Achilles Heel in 2009?

Halfway through the 2009 Preseason for the Raiders and as fans we’ve seen some good things and some bad things but most disturbing is the fact that the team still can’t stop the run.

Reminiscent of a cold that you just can’t seem to shake, similar to having a sheet of flypaper stuck to your hand, the Oakland Raiders can’t dodge the fact that they’ve had great difficulty stopping the run for the past six years quickly going on seven.

Oakland has surrendered 150+ rushing yards per game, on average, for the better part of the last six years. To ask what is the problem or what has gone wrong are questions that are too obvious to ask.

The message to the new Defensive Coordinator couldn’t have been spelled out clearer: stop the run and get after the quarterback. It is way too early to say that they’ve failed because they haven’t. I applauded the selection of John Marshall & Dwaine Board as Defensive Line coach but these guys weren’t given the tools to succeed.

Defensive Tackle is a position of need that has been neglected in the Draft by Oakland for far too long. 2009 has started and this team needs two Defensive Tackles in the 2010 draft.

The last time the Raiders were stout up the middle against the run was 2002. I hate to have to call anyone out but we as Raider fans knew that this was a major area of need, that it had to be addressed and that the two best Defensive Tackles on the team were Tommy Kelly & Gerard Warren.

The blame has to be placed at the doorstep of Al Davis for consistently not addressing this position in the draft. As a Raiders fan I have also been a fan of Al Davis however there is no excuse for this happening.

The importance of the position has been overlooked, the idea of drawing a line in the sand and making a definitive stand on correcting this error has been put on the back burner for over a decade and it continues to be a major weakness.

When you talk of improving any team the first thing that needs to happen would be to improve the defense. Oakland has gone through another draft where the Defensive Tackle position wasn’t addressed, again, and it has been the Achilles heel for the Raiders as well as the reason for their demise.

The last five Defensive Tackles drafted by Oakland were Anttaj Hawthorne (2005), Junior Ioane (2000), Leon Bender (1998), Darrell Russell (1997) & Grady Jackson (1997).

Since the 2006 NFL Draft there have been a total of 80 Defensive Tackles selected. It is a known fact that playing Defensive Tackle in the NFL is night and day different than it is in college.

However, I refuse to believe that none of the previous mentioned players could’ve helped stop the disturbing trend of the Oakland Raiders making every opposing runner look like a Pro Bowl player.

Some of the Defensive Tackles mentioned anchor some of the best defenses in the NFL. What has happened on more than one occasion a solid defensive tackle is available in the draft but Al Davis has chosen to select a position player (WR, RB or CB) with Raider speed.

I’m not saying that having speed is a bad thing because as we all know speed kills but it does you no good in the middle of your defensive line. This writer stated in an article that the Raiders needed to draft not one but two Defensive Tackles or a Defensive Tackle and a Middle Linebacker.

I was told that I was out of my mind and that doing so made no sense at all. I often wonder what those individuals had to say when the team gave up 160 yards rushing in 2008. The same thought crossed my mind twice this year once in the draft when the team had the opportunity to make a definitive statement that they’re finally prepared to stop the run by selecting former Boston College teammates B.J. Raji & Ron Brace.

The second time while I was in the stands watching rookie runner Glen Coffee gash the silver and black for 129 yards in a little more than a quarter of football. I know that it’s pre-season and the games don’t count but Oakland surrendered 275 yards rushing in the game. Thanks to this Oakland ranks dead last in the league in run defense.

I compiled a short list of Defensive Tackles players currently on other teams that may or may not make the roster for the current employers but they’re players the Raiders need to keep an eye on to help them stop the run.

• New England – Mike Wright, Steve Williams & Myron Pryor
• Cincinnati – Jason Shirley
• Pittsburgh – Scott Paxson
• Indianapolis – Antonio Johnson, Daniel Muir
• Jacksonville – Jonathan Lewis, Derek Landri
• Tennessee – Kevin Vickerson
• Miami – Joe Cohen
• Seattle – Red Bryant
• Chicago – Matt Toeaina
• Washington – Antonio Dixon
• New York Giants – Anthony Bryant

We’re extremely close to the first roster cuts and the production generated or the lack thereof by Terdell Sands & William Joseph means that there’s a real chance that both won’t make the roster.

Jonathan Lewis has been released from Jacksonville and I doubt he’ll make a trip to the East Bay. I was surprised to see one of the guys on this list (Joe Cohen) has been signed. There are no guarantees but when you rank dead last in run defense the sign that there needs to more competition at the position and a need for new blood should appear like a large neon sign.

I’ve no idea how Ryan Boschetti & Joe Cohen will pan out but I like their efforts. I’m not saying that these guys will be the answer but could turn out to be steps in the right direction.

The offense will be better with much more production from QB JaMarcus Russell, The Wide Receivers as a group, TE Zack Miller and a solid trio of runners. I’m hoping that the run defense improves in 2009 although you and I know that instead of drafting a Defensive Tackle or two Oakland will sign a free agent.

The run defense is the biggest question mark on this team. This team will put up more points but needs to stop drafting on emotion and start drafting based on production. Leave the projects for undrafted free agents and get this team back on track.

Several people will never forget that the 2008 Lions went defeated and didn't win a game however from 2003 - 2008 that team won more games than the Oakland Raiders. The change for the better and the improvement needs to start in 2009.

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