Do they play a 3-4 or a 4-3.
"Both," coach Norv Turner insists. "Just like last year."
For that matter, just like the year before as well ... even before Rob Ryan was brought in as defensive coordinator to install the 3-4 as his base defense.
The real question is which will be considered the team's primary defense. That the Raiders aren't answering it for public consumption is understandable. Until they know the exact makeup of their personnel come July, they are unwilling to commit ... more than likely even amongst themselves.
They would love to use the 3-4. However, last year, their personnel just did not fit it. The result was the No. 30 defense in the NFL in yards allowed. By comparison, that was good news. When it came to points allowed, matters were worse. They tied with San Francisco for the most points allowed in the entire league -- 442.
Only once in their 45-year history had they given up more points and that was back in 1961, the last year Chrysler made DeSoto automobiles.
Last year's determination to make the 3-4 work resulted in far too many players playing out of position. Two of their best players -- Tyler Brayton and Warren Sapp -- fit that description. A defensive end, Brayton was not an outside linebacker. A defensive tackle his entire career, Sapp was not a defensive end.
Since then, the Raiders have released Grant, traded Harris, re-signed run stopping end Bobby Hamilton and acquired a player they are counting on to give them the pressure rush that has been absent the past two years -- Derrick Burgess, formerly of Philadelphia.
Ryan says Burgess is exactly the kind of player who can work wonders for his defense -- a legitimate pass rush threat. He was in 2001 when he had six sacks (two more than the Raiders' 2003 leader). But that was a flock of injuries ago.
The Raiders are counting on Seattle, as well as the Eagles, to be wrong based on his post-season performance. He was switched from right end to the left side in 2004 and had only 2.5 sacks. But in the playoffs, he moved back to right end and had a good playoff run with three sacks -- two on Michael Vick and one on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
He figures as the right end in Oakland, Sapp's spot in 2004. Brayton will surely play more end and less linebacker in 2005 but with Hamilton the left end, one wonders how will that work out.
Then where does that leave Sapp? Ted Washington is going to be the nose tackle, no matter what. That appears to direct Sapp back to the position where he made his reputation -- undertackle.
But if Washington and Sapp are to be on the field simultaneously and frequently, that means one thing.
It means four comes before three ... as in the 4-3.
--For the third straight year, the Raiders will face their cross-Bay rivals from San Francisco on the 49ers home field. It will be their preseason opener.
Other 2005 Raider exhibition games are, in order, at Houston, home to Arizona and home to New Orleans.
--Raiders coach Norv Turner may not have fond memories of last year's 5-11 finish, but he can rest more easily knowing he coached the last Washington Redskins team that had a winning record.
The Skins were 10-6 under Turner in 1999. He was fired late in the following season and Washington hasn't gotten above .500 since then.
"I thought we had a bright future," Turner said. "We had a good young nucleus that we were building on. It's kind of how Philadelphia has been building their team. Instead, they decided to go in a different direction, signing older players for big money."
"I won't bite," Turner replied.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We all get caught up in trying to be creative at times and trying to find too many different ways to do the same thing. When you have a guy like Randy (Moss) and Jerry Porter on the other side and can get (Ronald) Curry on the field, you can simplify some things, create matchups and do some things that maybe aren't as complicated and you do more on just pure execution." -- Coach Norv Turner on whether he will be tricking up the offense to take advantage of Moss.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Linebacker. They could rely on that pass rush push from a gifted outside linebacker provided they stay with the 3-4 that didn't materialize as was expected in '04.
2. Defensive end. In 15 of their games, the Raiders had just 18 sacks. In the other game, they had seven (against Buffalo's immobile Drew Bledsoe). With coverage cornerback play having been hit hard by contact rules, it is imperative that pass defense start with an effective pass rush and Oakland finished 30th in NFL pass defense last year. They believe they bolstered their rush by acquiring free agent Derrick Burgess, a post-season whiz in Philadelphia, but he is far from a proven commodity and more is needed from the draft.
3. Quarterback. With Rich Gannon apparently on the way out as of June 1, the Raiders may move to the middle of the draft or free agency to seek out a possible No. 3 quarterback. Currently, they only have practice squad types in David Rivers and Bret Engemann.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: CB Charles Woodson.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.