Speed and production key to Raiders success

Speed and production replace age and veteran leadership. The Raiders hope the new crop of emerging youngsters on defense can become a cohesive group quickly, counting on Kirk Morrison and newly added Michael Huff to lead the team into the future.

The Raiders hope to have gotten younger and faster on defense in the offseason, although they lost considerable girth in the middle when they opted to part ways with defensive tackle Ted Washington.

On the defensive line, Washington's absence is the most notable change. He will likely be replaced by Tommy Kelly, who began playing more tackle than end last season.

Kelly figures to rotate with ex-Seahawk Rashad Moore and Terdell Sands, whose play late last season may have given the Raiders the impetus they needed to jettison the highly-paid Washington.

The Raiders will watch Warren Sapp, coming off rotator cuff surgery, very closely. Sapp, who was a non-factor in 2004, showed flashes of his Tampa Bay form last season before being injured.

Derrick Burgess, who led the NFL in sacks with 16, could get additional help outside from Lance Johnstone, a situational pass rusher. The Raiders also moved Tyler Brayton back to defensive end, where he is currently starting over veteran Bobby Hamilton.

The Raiders got an infusion of youth at linebacker with the drafting of Thomas Howard (second round) and Darnell Bing (fourth round), the latter a converted safety from Southern California. In case they don't develop as quickly as hoped, veteran Robert Thomas, a former first-round pick, was added as a free agent.

Also returning is outside linebacker Sam Williams, a third-round draft pick in 2003 whose career has been derailed by serious shoulder and knee injuries. Williams won the starting job in training camp last season before being injured.

The biggest change in the secondary is strong safety Michael Huff, who will immediately start alongside free safety Stuart Schweigert. But from down to down, Huff could be anywhere -- covering the slot receiver as a corner, playing in the box against the run, or even blitzing on occasion.

His role will be similar to that of the departed Charles Woodson, who left as a free agent. The Raiders were gradually working Woodson into a jack-of-all-trades role, but got only 19 games out of him the past two years because of injury.

Third-year cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and second-year man Fabian Washington will start at cornerback, but the Raiders got depth and some help in extra defensive back situations with the addition of New England castoffs Duane Starks and Tyrone Poole. They will probably be happy if one of the two has enough gas left in the tank to lend a steadying hand in the backfield.


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