Raiders need hired guns to produce

The Oakland Raiders defense could be something special thanks to their off season makeover -- will it come sooner or later?

Sooner as in Sunday's opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The Raiders run defense was dead last a year ago and a quick start Sunday is critical if for no other reason than to show that things are different. Well, they are changed as far as personnel but are they better?

The Oakland Raiders need to get results sooner rather than later. In theory, the preseason doesn't count but if the Raiders retooled defense that returns only four starters does not produce, they might have to win their share of 37-34 games.

The Raiders defense gave up a ton of yards and far too many third-down conversions in the exhibition season. Keep in mind, the Raiders had their issues last season in the exhibition games. They told anyone who would listen that those problems would be addressed by the time the regular season started. A funny thing happened -- it never did and Oakland plummeted to 4-12.

"We just needed to work those kinks out," said inside linebacker Danny Clark, who signed as a free agent from Jacksonville. "It wasn't just the first group. We've done a lot of work. We've had a lot of snaps this whole off season. We've built a camaraderie as a football team. The sky's the limit."

Besides the starters, the Raiders replaced the coordinator as Rob Ryan took the place of Chuck Bresnahan. Ryan has reshaped the Raiders until a 3-4 unit that is aggressive and a departure in philosophy from Bresnahan's more conservative approach.

Oakland's offense showed that it is multi-faceted in beating teams with the power-running game and vertical passing game. The defense, however, showed that it could go either way. The Raiders have the potential to be a strong defense but also one capable of giving up big plays. It's too soon to truthfully gauge.

If the Raiders defense struggles early in the season, there will be the trap of saying, "it's early." However, beware of that trap. Granted, anytime a team goes through such a vast makeover, it will take time to gel. But if the defense has not gelled by late October, chances are it will not mesh at all.

"We're going to show everything in this game," said defensive tackle Warren Sapp, whom the Raiders signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay. "There are no do-overs. They're shooting live bullets now."

If the Raiders defense does not change last year's trend sooner rather than later, they will be firing blanks and not bullets.

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