Much like defensive tackles and linebackers, the outlook of this position largely depends on whether or not the Oakland Raiders decide to stick with the 3-4 as their primary front seven. That scheme, while proven it can work for other teams, was an utter failure in Oakland last season and must be the complete opposite if the Raiders want a chance to get to the postseason.
If the Raiders stay with the 3-4, that means the defensive ends will probably be Warren Sapp and Bobby Hamilton. Sapp, who had been a tackle his entire career before joining the Raiders last season, was a bust as an end last season. The team tried to move Sapp around to get a matchup to his advantage but to no avail. In a best-case scenario, Sapp could still be a decent 4-3 tackle.
The Raiders re-signed Hamilton during the offseason. The 34-year old Hamilton might not be an elite defensive end but he is smart against the run and brings an intangible quality not always readily seen at first glance. Having said that, Oakland was wise not to make Hamilton part of any offseason changes.
If the Raiders go with the 4-3 look, they could have a decent four-man rotation of Hamilton, Tyler Brayton, Grant Irons and free agent signee Derrick Burgess. Like Sapp at end, Brayton looked out of place at linebacker. Brayton, whom Oakland drafted in the first round in 2003, could be a middle-of-the-road end who makes a lot of hustle plays.
Burgess came up big for the Philadelphia Eagles on the way to helping them to a Super Bowl appearance. Is that performance a sign of things to come or a flash in the pan? Irons received solid playing time last year and could be an adequate backup.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com