Richard Seymour is the most important aspect of this grouping. His ability to disrupt the offensive line’s flow will be vital for the defense and its young players. Rookie Lamarr Houston could be the biggest wild card of the bunch. He has been aggressive since donning the Silver & Black in the spring, shown to be a feisty and his constant motor could be the perfect complement to Seymour. Matt Shaughnessy will make a name for himself in 2010. The Raiders will start him at defensive end and hope to get close to double-digit sack totals from the second year prospect. Two pivotal players will be Tommy Kelly and John Henderson. Oakland has been notoriously pitiful at stuffing the run since 2003. If those two tackles can play stout in and give their new set of linebackers room to roam toward the ball carrier, the Raiders will have a top-15 defense in the NFL.
Kelly – Seymour is a major key, but the pricey Kelly could really put this unit on a different level if he played up to his contract numbers.
No other roster position had so much turnover during the off-season. Rolando McClain will roam at middle linebacker, flanked by Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbley. None wore Raider colors last year and all three will be put to the test, especially while in coverage. Wimbley has potential to give the Silver & Black a menace as a pass rusher. Ricky Brown and Travis Goethel will contribute more on special teams, along with veteran Sam Williams. Thomas Howard got demoted, but he’ll play a big role in long down and distance situations and when Oakland faces opponents that feature speedier tight ends.
McClain – The rookie needs to anchor a new corps and become a force against the run.
Nnamdi Asomugha still remains the club’s best player. But his new corner mate will be Stanford Routt. He beat out Chris Johnson this summer and will get his first real shot to prove he can be a NFL starting caliber cornerback. Johnson allowed too many big plays and was victimized often in 2009, knowing teams would challenge him with an all-pro on the other side of the field. Oakland has high hopes for Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware. Tyvon Branch is primed to be one of the better young strong safety in the AFC and Mike Mitchell will be have his chances to attack opposing quarterbacks. Michael Huff remains an enigma. Will he ever be a playmaker at the pro level?
Huff – Asomugha locks down opponents, Routt and the rest of the cornerbacks should be ok, but if Huff can be a ball hawk and not be out of position consistently, the Raiders could feature one of the better young defensive backfields in the AFC.
Shane Lechler is the league’s best punter, Sebastian Janikowski should have been in the pro-bowl last season and specialist Jon Condo is a professional at his craft. The coverage groups have to upgrade significantly their play. Of concern in 2009 was the lack of pop on kick and punt returns. Not only will Oakland have Johnnie Lee Higgins back, but also a healthy Nick Miller could finally see some action. Yamon Figurs and Jacoby Ford are also options if anyone falters or can’t give the Raiders return units some jolt.
Whoever steps up as a punt returner – Two years ago, Higgins surprised the league with game altering returns. A hit in the season opener last season affected his play the rest of the season. Oakland must find a returner that can change field position at any point in a contest.
WR Shaun Bodiford, TE Kevin Brock, S Stevie Brown, DT Kellen Heard, LB Slade Norris, OL Alex Parsons, DB Joe Porter and FB Manase Tonga.