Raiders front four strong; depth needed

Warren Sapp. Ted Washington. Derrick Burgess. This should be an unstoppable unit for the Oakland Raiders. Throw in the emergence of Tommy Kelly and the defensive line is a strength. Another year in the same scheme should make the front four even better. Depth is needed as both Sapp and Washington head toward the final years of their career.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Bobby Hamilton, RE Derrick Burgess, DT Warren Sapp, NT Ted Washington. Backups - DE/DT Tommy Kelly, DT Ed Jasper, DT Terdell Sands, DE-LB Tyler Brayton, DT Antaj Hawthorne.

Hamilton missed two games with a knee injury but seems to keep getting better. A bloated $5.3 million cap figure means he likely will have to renegotiate, but he is a solid team player and probably will be back.

Burgess, who led the NFL with 16 sacks, was one of the league's top free agent acquisitions. The one Raider who had a truly exceptional year, Burgess shed a reputation for being injury-prone by playing all 16 games and probably double the amount of snaps he ever got with the Eagles.

Following a wasted first year miscast as an end in a 3-4, Sapp recaptured much of his Tampa Bay form working inside over a guard and had five sacks before suffering a torn rotator cuff and going on injured reserve Nov. 27. Given signing bonus and acceleration figures totaling $6 million, Sapp will be given every opportunity to rehab his shoulder and re-assume his position as a starter.

Washington remains an immovable object in the middle and quietly had a solid season.

Kelly, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, shows flashes of being dominant. If he makes another step up in 2006, the Raiders may have something special.

Jasper, an unrestricted free agent, was a solid contributor who toyed with retiring last season. Back trouble may force the issue.

Sands was solid inside after Sapp went down to injury, but he is more along the lines of a nose tackle than a defensive tackle.

Brayton plays some downs at end and although undersized, he is more at home with his hand down.

Hawthorne was elevated from the practice squad late in the year and saw only minimal action the one time he was active. He is not particularly big or strong.

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