Defense better than anyone thought?

The Oakland Raiders are hell-bent on bringing their defense back up to snuff and part of that is a simple mindset. But the early returns in camp have shown the defense to be more than able.

Either the Oakland Raiders have morphed into a defense worthy of comparison with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens or 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or they have themselves an offense that will cause large-scale panic among Raider Nation when it makes its debut on national television on Aug. 6.

Of course, chances are good Oakland's defense is merely improved and familiar with its scheme, while the offense is struggling with a new system, new personnel and a makeshift offensive line missing a key component.

Even with that perspective, it can't be settling for the offense to have its brains beaten in for the first five days of training camp.

"We've got to pick it up," one frustrated offensive player said. "The defense is beating us to the punch."

Raiders coach Art Shell, more of a football man than a baseball man, compared it to "the pitchers being ahead of the hitters in spring training," oblivious to the reality that ERAs usually take a beating in the Cactus League.

Shell's point is well-taken, even if he got his comparison stuck in reverse. The Raiders have a new offensive coordinator in Tom Walsh, a new starting quarterback in Aaron Brooks and a revamped offensive line which was missing Robert Gallery, who sat out the first week with a quadriceps strains suffered while training in Iowa.

Walsh has not coached in the NFL since being dismissed along with Shell by the Raiders in 1994, and has been out of football since 1999, most recently serving as the mayor of a small town in Idaho and running a bed and breakfast inn.

The presence of Walsh -- instead of former Rams coach and new Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz, is reportedly one of the reasons wide receiver Jerry Porter has expressed a desire to be traded.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive system of Rob Ryan is entering its third year.

"Usually the defense is a little ahead of where the offense is," left guard Barry Sims said.

Sims has moved inside from left tackle. Langston Walker, who started last season as the starting left guard, moved to his original position, right tackle. Rookie third-round draft pick Paul McQuistan has taken all the first-team reps at right guard, and Jake Grove, a second-round draft pick entering his third year, is the starting center.

Gallery's spot had been taken by journeyman tackle Chad Slaughter.

The Raiders have made no secret of their desire to run the ball, and while they've worked hard at moving the defense, they've been turned back more often than not. In one recent goal line series, running back Justin Fargas was stacked up twice at the line of scrimmage before Andrew Walter pulled it back on third down and scored untouched on a bootleg.

A nice play, but not as satisfying as powering one in.

The Raiders' passing game, while showing more involvements from tight ends than at any time in recent memory, has yet to deliver on its intention to get the ball deep to wide receivers Randy Moss, Jerry Porter and Doug Gabriel.

Brooks is more concerned with learning the system than lighting up the practice field.

"It's a great system. I'm going to embrace it," Brooks said. "It can only help me. I'm with a new team, new teammates, great receivers, and hopefully I can get back to that peak performance that I'm looking at. I'm very patient. I don't want to frustrate myself by trying to do too much too early."

Rather than have to zero in on a planned progression of receivers, Brooks said the Raiders system will allow him the freedom to hit any receiver at any given time.

"As a quarterback, that's what you want. I think that's going to be the key, for me to be able to utilize my athletic ability to help this football team win football games."


SB Report Top Stories