Oakland Raiders cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke at 2012 mini camp (photo by Levi Damien)
It's day two of the Raiders training camp and the defense was making their presence felt. The pads don't go on until tomorrow but they did what they could without pads. And with a lot of experts predicting a down year for the Raider defense, it was a welcome sight.
It started with the guys up front who were getting in the backfield fairly regularly. They can't actually make contact with the quarterback or the running backs but it is apparent when they are in position to make a play and pull up and the last instant.
The defensive line has not really been the question mark for this team. The questions lie mostly in the linebacking corps. No one is really sure what to expect from the starting unit of Rolando McClain, Philip Wheeler, and Aaron Curry. Equally concerning in the depth.
In practice today, for the first time it appeared they were making strides in the new scheme. Miles Burris has been filling in for Curry at weak side linebacker and he made a few nice plays in the run game along with fellow rookie draftee Nathan Stupar. They both show good gap discipline and ability to shed blocks.
The linebackers did struggle a bit in the passing game against the tight ends but it wasn't completely one sided. Burris read a Palmer pass and had it graze his fingers on what should have been an interception but resulted in an incompletion. McClain also had a couple moments where he had good coverage on his man.
Wheeler was the one who stumbled in the passing game. Ausberry blocked him out of a play on a short pass which turned into a sizable gain. Then on the next play, Wheeler essentially tackled Brandon Myers while the ball was in the air for what would have been a sure pass interference. Afterward, Wheeler popped up with his head down and hit his chest as if to say "my bad."
After the linebackers is where the real fine defensive work was done. Demarcus Van Dyke has been filling in for Ron Bartell who is out with a strained hamstring. And DVD was balling today.
The second year corner was lined up on Darrius Heyward-Bey much of the day and had him locked up a good portion of the time. He had at least two passes defended on DHB and another ball which he had such tight coverage, Palmer had to throw it over both of their heads and out of bounds. Van Dyke is making a strong push to compete for a starting job.
Huff and Branch had good days as well. The two of them had tight coverage on a long pass from Palmer which was intended for Eddie McGee. They had him in lock step in front and back with no chance of getting to the ball. There was another instance where Jacoby jumped up to catch a pass over the middle that had there been hitting, Huff would have lit him up. He had to slow himself before Ford even caught the ball for fear of a major collision at the arrival of the ball.
There was one interception on the day and it came from Mike Mitchell. He read a pass from Palmer perfectly and caught it in stride and ran it back for a score. It was just the type of play Mitchell had been waiting to make. He got his chance and he seized it. Palmer was mad at himself as the ball was slightly underthrown but kudos have to be given to Mitchell for reading it so perfectly.
Many people will see this and think Palmer had a really bad day. It is true, he wasn't happy with his day but let me assure you that these plays aren't on Palmer. He has looked very sharp. The defense has simply finally caught up with the new playbook and the results were bound to start showing. There was a day like this in minicamps as well and as camp heats up, we can expect a few more. The offense will have their days too. But today goes to the defense.