Approaching mid-March, while certain details of the new CBA regarding free agency are being hashed out, key free agents on our defensive side remain unsigned. As in version 1, we'll break down position by position, and attempt to develop a clearer picture of what's to come for our Raiders defense in 2011, based on what we had last year, what we have now, and possibilities of what will be roster-wise, starting this season. While we're on the subject, here's an interesting link to an article on Raiders.com on the evolution of our defense:
Is this article foreshadowing some of what we will see this year, in defensive fronts? What can we expect from Chuck Bresnahan and our paltry run defense this time around? Will his awesomeness and Michael H. be a part of our secondary this year? Eugene is inked, and the franchise tag was placed on none other than Kamerion Wimbley... hmmm... You know the drill; hit the jump to read on.
Raiders teams in the past had success in the 3-4, and the tone of the article initially makes one wonder if there is some significance to pointing out what super bowl winning teams in the past used to get wins. The last time our defense was really much to talk about was in 2002, in a 4-3 base that has remained. This from the piece on Raiders. com:
En route to an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVII, the 2002 Raiders employed a 4-3 front with John Parrella, Sam Adams and Rod Coleman rotating at defensive tackle and Regan Upshaw and DeLawrence Grant at the defensive end spots. The linebackers included rookie Napoleon Harris, and veterans Bill Romanowski and Eric Barton. The secondary featured Charles Woodson and Tory James on the corners and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, along with Anthony Dorsett at safety. The team chalked up 43 sacks and 21 interceptions. Coleman led the way with 11 sacks and Rod Woodson tied for the league lead with eight interceptions. The 2002 Raiders defense ranked among the league leaders in least points allowed per game, least rushing yards per attempt and fewest rushing yards allowed per game.
We can expect to see our prototypical 4-3 man/press base defense to return, this time with Rod Woodson, Greg Biekert, and Chuck Bresnahan reunited now under Hue Jackson, but to be called a bully anytime soon, this team's D must develop a true identity and fast, and demonstrate ability to consistently control the run. With that, let us look at the squad, position by position:
At free safety we have Stevie Brown and Hiram Eugene under contract, with Michael Huff up in the air. At strong, currently Tyvon Branch and Mike Mitchell. SBP is rife with speculation about Huff, whose future here now grows more uncertain with the signing of Eugene, himself a solid cover free with tackling that needs serious help, and the tag going to our pass rushing backer in Wimbley, who may as well be an end. I'm leaning towards Huff being back in silver and black happening, but you can't by any means count out the possibility of the predator, or another youth assuming the roster spot.
Regardless of who it will be, I'm hoping Rod Woodson and the defensive coaches make good on his statement that we'll get these guys in better position to be playmakers, facing the ball a bit more, and not left chasing down the big and fast receivers we face in our division. What I expect to see is a synchronization of the defensive backfield with the stalwart pass rushing line we have. Rod was a master at picking up cues from the lineman, always policing the field and his team, helping them to be in position to make plays. The safeties and corners can see from cues Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaugnessy, and Kamerion Wimbley will give, and know how often these guys can beat their opponents, or how often when they have the inside shoulder and jump routes accordingly. I feel this is a lot less the guys and a lot more of how difficult a situation we put them in. Add in the inability to stop the run, and you have the mess we fielded prone to big plays on any given down.
Stanford Routt, Jeremy Ware, Walter McFadden, and Chris Johnson currently comprise our cbs, and I expect a deal to be done with Nnamdi, regardless of how impossible it seems or how Michael Lombardi wishes on us whenever possible. We need him here, or take steps back, and not even Patrick Peterson would change that for us, and no scenario you give me would be a believable one that made him a possiblity here. I'm not even sure we'll draft a cb if and when Nnamdi and the rest are locked in. I'd like at least one other tall and adept man cover guy for depth, and I believe we can become the defensive bully again, but the coaching will be key to get synched with the pass rush.
On the strong side we have Quentin Groves, Thomas Howard, and Bruce Davis. In the middle, Rolando McClain, Ricky Brown, and Travis Goethel are under contract. On the weak side, Kamerion Wimbley and Sam Williams, and Trevor Scott should return. This is where we need the most help. I'm expecting a lot from Greg Biekert, and he has big shoes to fill, as what we have at the position as a result of last years attempt to get bigger and more stout against the run has resulted in Groves, who is mediocre at best in stopping the run and worse in coverage most of the time, with occasional flashes of ability to run with slower TEs, but never with backs, and Wimbley, who excels in rushing the passer, and has offered little help in stopping the run as well, and is equally a liability in coverage most of the time. Rolando played well, and will grow into the position, but struggled with becoming the captain we need him to be. Greg Biekert will show him what he needs to know to be the policeman at his position, and minimize his mistakes, therein increasing his playing speed and minimizing his read and react time. Goethel shows a natural ability to be a mini-Greg, and I'm all for entertaining the idea of moving him outside to get his talents on the field where needed. Don't be surprised to see a significant shake up of personnel at lb, including some mix ups of fronts allowing us to get extra backers and safeties on the field in some of Chuck B's big nickel fronts, and some 3-2-6 dime packages when the situation calls for it.
Rolando is the sole starter amongst our backers that plays the complete position. He's not the best cover guy, but the Mike backer should almost never be chasing down guys and covering man to man, and with a little help, we can get the right guys to assume this role a little more often than not, with Waufle, Biekert, and Woodson getting their heads together, and changing the position from weakness to strength. I believe Woodson's impact here in getting the front four synchronized with the defensive backfield will do wonders for the linebackers as well, and can't think of a better guy than Biekert to enforce gap discipline and minimize mistakes and biting on play actions, fakes, and misdirects. Wimbley creates an interesting quandary because he can be a dominant pass rushing force, but is he truly a Will backer, or a rush end? And Sam William's needs to step aside and make room for a new face. I'd love to get a disciplined guy like Mark Herzlich or Ross Homan, who could provide immediate competition at the outside spots, where we need serious help. I have expressed wanting to get Howard in the rotation covering, but he has been too exposed for inability to shed blocks and, well, they'll just run on us if we sub in Thomas when it looks like a passing situation. He provides nice depth, however, and could figure to get an increased role in the defense under the new coaching regime.
To say the least, linebacker is a position where upgrade is a definite must-happen.
If we bullied anyone around last season, it was almost entirely due to the play of this crew.
Our second overall pick in Lamarr Houston was a fine addition to Matt Shaugnessy at end, and Jarvis Moss was a decent acquisition during the season. Remember the arguments we had over Seymour, not just about his abilities, but whether or not he'd play tackle or end in our defense?
At the tackle position, Mr. Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant, John Henderson, and Tommy Kelly round out the bunch. Tommy Kelly really surprised us last year, as did Richard Seymour considering the amount of folks who questioned his abilities this time last year. These guys also helped out significantly in the run game, but when we were beaten in the trenches on defense, we were getting gashed for 200 plus yards by the teams doing it, so they can do a little better as well. I expect gelling another season under Waufle will do them well, and the addition of some great coaches with some great chemistry and history can't hurt one bit. Look for Hue to put a stamp on this defense in creating the bully on the defensive side to accompany our offense.
While this was the most impressive unit of the defense, in looking at the depth chart as is, the ends look a little thin. I didn't expect us to go defensive line in the draft or free agency, but won't be surprised if the staff finds us lacking someone there, and we make a move. As previously expressed, I don't think moving Wimbley and Scott to end and getting backers is at all a bad idea, and the two could work nicely into a rotation as well.
To truly be called a bully, this defense will have to put its days of being weak against the run behind it, and that will take fewer mistakes across the board, but mostly in the defensive middle, as we have tossed around liberally in discussion here. It is also my belief that many of the games we had leads entering the fourth quarter last year were 100% winnable games by the teams we fielded those days, so as a result, there are high hopes for the new staff to do what needs to be done to never again lose games we should win.
We are close, but being a defensive guy, and reminiscent of the stifling defenses once characteristic of Raider great teams of the past, I expect a fierce defensive identity, and the ability to completely shut down even the most prolific of offenses at our best. Questions definitely remain, but the potential to be that team is definitely there, but the linebackers must become the backbone, and the three teams must learn to become one, despite the systems we play in.
Is a defensive bully, like the teams that featured the Assassin, or Hendricks and Martin, or Millen or Villapiano, Hayes/Haynes in the cards for 2011? Are you ready to watch Raider football like then, when you begged a receiver to go over the middle, and for a quarterback to sling one at said receiver?
I know I am.