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Raiders happy with new defensive tackle rotations

The team adjusts even more after Johnathan Hankins’ trade

Las Vegas Raiders v Miami Dolphins
Neil Farrell
Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

One of the positions with dramatic change for the Las Vegas Raiders due to the coaching change was at defensive tackle. This week’s trade of Johnathan Hankins has further changed the rotation at the position.

Now, the Raiders’ rotation at defensive tackle consists of starters Bilal Nichols and Andrew Billings and Kendal Vickers and rookie Neil Farrell. Rookie Matthew Butler is usually inactive. Only Vickers is a holdover from the previous regime. The new brass re-signed Hankins this offseason, but he play time was dwindling and he was even healthy scratch in Week 5 at Kansas City. Hankins played just 12 snaps against Houston on Sunday in his final game with Las Vegas.

  • Nicholas, signed as a free agent from Chicago, has played, at least, 71 percent of the snaps in four of six games this season.
  • Billings, signed as a street free agent in February, has played anywhere from 30-69 percent of the snaps in six games this season. He has played, at least, 51 percent of the snaps in half of Las Vegas’ games.
  • Vickers has played in the 30-39 percent range in four games with a high of 67 percent and a low of 16 percent.
  • Farrell, a fourth-round pick from LSU, was inactive for the first four games, but played 29 percent of the snaps in Week 15 and 15 percent in Week 7.
  • Butler, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee, has only been active in Weeks 3 and 4. He has played a total of seven snaps

All of these snap counts are courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

While it’s all about the rotation, new Las Vegas defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is happy with Nichols and Billings getting the majority of the snaps at defensive tackle.

“It helps to have good players. We all know that. I think Frank [Okam] is doing a good job of teaching the techniques that we want to use in terms of playing with good pad level, playing with their hands out in front of their eyes, making sure they don’t get blocked by one guy,” Graham told reporters this week. “It’s hard enough to defend in this league, but you talk about it being a passing league and the guys up front have to be able to take on more than one block, or force guys to block them with two guys. So far, we’ve done a solid job with that. There’s still room to improve, but they’ve bought into that you can’t go one-for-one. That’s a big part of it because it’s too hard to cover the pass in this league if you don’t have guys that can take up two spots.”

With Hankins in Dallas, expect to see Farrell to continue to be active and get snaps in the rotation. Graham likes what he sees so far.

“The typical progression you see from rookies just in terms of learning how to study better, taking care of his body better, and then it shows up in practice,” Graham said. “Because any snaps earned on the field, how we do it here, is based on practice. And so, he’s had an emergence on the practice field. When we talk about the idea of practice execution becoming gam reality, that’s what we are looking for. And he’s worked really hard at practice, and it’s been encouraging. He knows he has a lot of room to grow, and that’s the case for most of us out there, but the thing is you’ve seen it in practice.”