Position outlook: Defensive ends

This is one story in a series of position outlooks on the Oakland Raiders. Today, we look at defensive end:

Looking back: This was another position where the Oakland Raiders overhauled their defense but without much success. The pass rush was pretty much nonexistent as only five other NFL teams had fewer sacks than the Raiders total of 30. Granted, sacks do not tell the entire story but when a team has the sixth fewest amount of sacks that does not say much for its ability to get to the quarterback. The team was no better in stopping the run.

When the Raiders signed defensive end Warren Sapp, they had visions of using him as a 3-4 as opposed to 4-3 tackle. That experiment flamed out. Free agent pickup Bobby Hamilton, Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons are the lone defensive ends by trade on the roster.

Hamilton might not put up eye-popping numbers but the 10-year veteran brought plenty of leadership qualities to the Raiders. Brayton regressed in his second season but that was not totally his fault.

The Raiders tried him as a 3-4 linebacker at various times, a position that he showed that he is ill-suited. Regardless of which position he plays, Brayton still has a tendency to lose outside containment. Grant Irons received some playing time late in the season and showed a tiny bit of promise.

Looking ahead: It remains to be seen what the Raiders decide to do with the 3-4, bag it or employ it much less. The defensively line certainly leaves something to be desired but the 4-3 certainly appears to be a better fit. In which case, converted linebackers Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and DeLawrence Grant, more so Gbaja-Biamila, could fit in occasionally.

Hamilton, who signed a one-year contract that went for $660,000 last year, is a free agent that the Raiders are likely to make a strong effort to keep. Hamilton might not be a superstar but is a reliable veteran leader who is likely to come cost effectively.

Brayton is the best pass rusher on the team, which doesn't say much considering how little pressure the Raiders put on opposing quarterbacks. Brayton still has some areas to improve but if the Raiders keep him at defensive end instead of trying him at linebacker he can be a significant contributor.

Irons has had one nondescript season in Buffalo and two in Oakland but showed enough promise late in the season that he could have value as a backup.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com

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