Training Camp Questions: The D-Line

The Raiders made a number of moves to bolster their efforts along the defensive line. Run defense has been a definite weakness for this team, as has the ability to maintain a consistent pass rush. S&BI takes a quick look at the Raiders' D-line, and how the pieces might fit.

How will the defensive line look come the start of the regular season? At the expense of reading like a broken record, among the many issues that have plagued the team in the past seven years, the inability to stop the run has been a major thorn in the side of Raider Nation. On top of that, although there have been times when the Raiders have showcased a capable pass rush, there really hasn't been any consistency from year to year, let alone game to game, in their efforts to get to the quarterback.

Now, if it was one or the other, or at the very least, if it was simply a matter of an addition or two on defense, then the task of rebuilding the team's defensive line would not be as arduous of a task as it already is. However, the team has struggled in nearly every facet of play against the run and the pass, and the results have shown in their dismal year-to-year rankings in both statistical categories.

That said, in the past, the Raiders have featured many teams who haven't exactly featured imposing defenses, but rather, a bend-but-not-break style that complemented their traditionally strong offenses.

But of course, that too has been a problem for the Raiders, and ultimately, there's an old school football belief that while good offenses come and go, a great defense will always give a team a chance to win.

While both sides of the ball require great scheming to succeed, the defense, more so than offense, is largely predicated on attitude and a team's ability to maintain that personality from one play to another.

As far as attitude goes, the Raiders already have some great leaders on their defense. Stalwarts like Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour provide great pillars of leadership for head coach Tom Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall. For a defense with some youth and plenty of new faces, having veterans like Asomugha and Seymour, who have bought into coach Cable's mantra of hard work and technical proficiency, is an indispensable asset in the team's efforts to grow and improve.

This offseason, the Raiders took a big step in adding to that leadership matrix by adding rookie linebacker Rolando McClain. In addition to his undeniable skill, McClain has built quite the reputation based on his desire to succeed, his readiness to win, and his ability to lead on and off the field. Already, he has impressed many around the organization for his willingness to take control of the defense despite being a rookie.

The fact that McClain is a middle linebacker is also something to consider, especially because the middle linebacker is often considered the quarterback of the defense, and also, that it gives the Raiders three capable leaders at all three levels of the defense.

But I digress.

While you can certainly make the argument that the defense as a whole provides enough of a critical camp question, the focus remains the defensive line.

Already in a previous article detailing the Raiders' offseason haul, we presented that given the state of the league's free agency market and the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement, that the Raiders did in fact, do as much as they could reasonably do to address their needs along the defensive line.

Unlike in year's past, the Raiders did not overreact and go after questionable players (i.e., Albert Haynesworth) or hand out ludicrous deals to unworthy players. Instead, the team played it safe and brought in low risk players that can potentially provide great rewards.

So far in training camp, Head Coach Tom Cable and his defensive staff have shown a penchant for versatility. That is, in new arrivals like John Henderson, Lamarr Houston, Quentin Groves, and Kamerion Wimbley, that Raiders feature several players who are talented enough to play a couple of positions. The same is true for some of the holdovers like Richard Seymour and Trevor Scott.

During one of his post draft meetings with the media, coach Cable hinted at a new look and a wrinkle in the Raiders' look on the defensive line. We are a little over a week into training camp, and coach Cable has kept his word, and perhaps, still has more new twists in store.

Initially, the starting front played out as Matt Shaughnessy as the open end with rookie Lamarr Houston on the strongside, and in the inside, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. While that certainly might be the look the Raiders feature come the regular season, where it gets really interesting is with the reserves.

Again, the "beauty" of the Raiders' current defensive line situation is in its versatility. As a 4-3 base defense, the Raiders have the personal to play specific downs without missing a beat.

Against the run, the Raiders can bring in their new weapon, the 6'7" run-stopping behemoth that is John Henderson. Henderson might not be the player he once was in Jacksonville, but he is still a capable defender, especially against the run. When bringing in Henderson, the Raiders simply can move him inside while moving Richard Seymour to the edge, essentially giving the Raiders four defensive tackles on the line yet still maintaining containment along the edges.

In obvious passing situations, depending on however the Raiders decide to set up their base defense, versatile hybrid defenders like Kamerion Wimbley, Trevor Scott, and Quentin Groves, have the ability to move from the outside linebacker spot and play with their hands down on the line.

It's a scenario that defensive coordinators dream of and offensive coordinators hate to game plan against.

Quentin Groves said it himself in a recent talk with the media, that the Raiders have unusually large linebackers yet still have the speed to protect the lateral field. It's the sort of versatility that will have opposing quarterbacks second-guessing themselves during their pre-snap reads.

Again, it's only been a little over a week into training camp, and there is still plenty of things that coach Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall would like to experiment with. But as training camp moves along, you will likely see less experimenting, as the staff will figure out what combinations work and which ones they will save for peculiar situations.


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