The Oakland Raiders defensive line began the season with a few question marks but turned into a stellar group as the season progressed.
The improvement started in the middle with the additions of tackles John Parrella and Sam Adams as run stuffers in the middle. Those two individuals provided the beef in the middle to help Oakland's run defense improve from No. 22 against the run in 2001 to No. 3 in 2002. Backup Rod Coleman's quickness was the ideal change of pace for Parrella and Adams. Coleman led all NFL interior linemen in sacks (11). Coleman is strong for his size (285) and is versatile enough to play end in a 3-4 front.
Chris Cooper is a versatile backup capable of playing end or tackle but has had more success as an end in his two NFL seasons.
The Raiders became a solid defensive line despite injuries to defensive ends Tony Bryant, Regan Upshaw and Trace Armstrong. Second-year man DeLawrence Grant made a lot of his opportunity. Grant tallied 26 tackles, three sacks and two stuffs but there were a handful of times where he did not make the tackle but made the play. Upshaw made a remarkable return despite tearing his ACL in a June minicamp noncontact drill.
The Raiders are likely to go through a few changes with this unit. Adams most likely will not be back. Armstrong is the team's best pass rusher if healthy but has landed on injured reserve in each of the last two seasons. Upshaw is also not a given to come back.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com