Training camp primer: Defense/Special Teams

The Oakland defense is steadfast upon improving. They want to see more big plays from everyone involved, especially the secondary, which lacked the ability to create turnovers.        

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - RDE Derrick Burgess, T Tommy Kelly, T Warren Sapp, LDE Tyler Brayton. Backups - E Lance Johnstone, E Bobby Hamilton, E Bryant McNeal, E Jeff Green, E Kevin Huntley, E Javon Nanton, T Anttaj Hawthorne, T Donnell Washington, T Michael Quarshie, T Terdell Sands, T Rashad Moore.

Burgess was one of the top free agent signings of 2005 and had an NFL-leading 16 sacks, giving Oakland its long-sought pressure from the outside. Kelly, who played both end and tackle, will play exclusively inside following the release of nose tackle Ted Washington. Sapp was flashing his old form until suffering a torn rotator cuff; the Raiders went 0-6 without him and need to see he still has something left. Brayton, miscast as a linebacker for two years, is back where he belongs at end. Johnstone could provide Burgess with a second threat from the edge but will be used sparingly. Sands could have a big role if the Raiders struggle early inside against the run, and Moore will also be looked to in this area. Hawthorne played well in NFL Europe but remains on the fringe.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Kirk Morrison, MLB Danny Clark, WLB Thomas Howard. Backups - OLB Robert Thomas, OLB Grant Irons, OLB Darnell Bing, OLB Sam Williams, OLB Ryan Riddle, OLB Roger Cooper, OLB Shawn Morgan, MLB Isaiah Ekijuiba, MLB Ricky Brown, MLB Pasha Jackson.

Morrison quietly led all NFL rookies in tackles as a third-round draft pick out of San Diego State, and even bigger things are expected of Howard. Expect to see those two on the field the majority of the time, with Clark -- a solid run-defender and team leader -- coming off in passing situations. Bing is a converted safety who the Raiders hope will help in coverage with the difficult running back and tight end matchups in the passing game. Williams broke through as starter last year only to suffer a torn ACL. Thomas, a former first-round draft pick, could emerge if Howard and Bing struggle as rookies. Irons' is strictly a goal-line and short-yardage player, while Ikijuiba and Riddle are predominantly special teams players.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, RCB Fabian Washington, FS Stuart Schweigert, SS Michael Huff. Backups - CB Stanford Routt, CB Duane Starks, CB Tyrone Poole, SS Derrick Gibson, SS Jarrod Cooper, S Eugene Hiram, S Alvin Nnabuife, CB Dennis Davis, CB Chris Carr, CB Raymond Washington.

The Raiders exhibited the ability to cover receivers last season but were short on playmakers. They intercepted only five passes, the lowest total in NFL history over a 16-game season. The hope is Huff, the first-round pick out of Texas, will help with forcing turnovers, whether it be interceptions or fumble recoveries. He will be used much in the way the Raiders used the oft-injured Charles Woodson, although he will play deep as a safety more often. Huff will play some man coverage, single up on difficult inside matchups, rush the passer on occasion and play in the box as a run defender. Asomugha is going into his fourth year and has yet to intercept a pass, although he is a rangy if conservative pass defender. Washington held up well as a rookie starter, and Schweigert has flashed some big play capability as well as the occasional big mistake. Expect one of the veteran free agents -- Starks or Poole -- to emerge as nickel or dime defender. Routt, as a rookie, had the look and athletic skill of a prospect but it remains to be seen whether he has the sense or instinct to justify his second-round selection in 2005. Carr has a safety's taste for hitting but a corner's size.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, K Tim Duncan, K David Kimball, P Shane Lechler, P Glenn Pakulak (P), KR/PR Chris Carr, LS Adam Treu.

Janikowski, drafted in the first round in 2000 because of his leg strength, was 7-for-15 from 40 yards or further in the worst season of his career. He'll get another year to straighten it out. Lechler remains among the NFL's premiere punters, and would be an even better weapon if Oakland ever had coverage teams to match his skills. Carr had his moments as a rookie return specialist, although he never broke one for the distance. Treu is as reliable a long-snapper as there is in the NFL.

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