Much of the outlook of this position is hinged on whether or not the Oakland Raiders stick with the 3-4 alignment, which failed miserably last season as the team ranked 30th in total defense. So far anyhow, the team does not appear to have any plans to scrap that scheme.
The Raiders signed Ted Washington and Warren Sapp last season as free agents with the idea of having a defense that wreaked havoc but neither has given the Raiders great returns on their investment. Sapp played defensive end after spending his first ten years in the league at tackle and made minimal impact, to put it mildly.
Most people have theorized that the while Oakland's defense wouldn't suddenly become great, it would be much better in a 4-3 setup with Washington and Sapp at tackle.
Tommy Kelly, however, was the unit's biggest surprise. After making the team as an undrafted free agent, he led the team with four quarterback sacks. The Raiders also have veterans Terdell Sands, Kenny Smith and Ed Jasper in the mix. Smith and Jasper joined the team in the offseason as free agents.
The darkhorse of the group, however, would appear to be Anttaj Hawthorne, who was one of three sixth round draft choices. Hawthorne was projected to be drafted as high as the second round but various circumstances that included testing positive for marijuana caused his stock to drop. The Raiders, who have never had a problem welcoming players with problematic backgrounds, hope that Hawthorne couples his ability with hunger to prove the doubters wrong.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org