The Raiders spent significant dollars and draft picks to improve on defense, supplementing the depth chart with veterans and young players alike.
Head coach Jack Del Rio said the Raiders would “attack” the secondary and prepare for life without Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson. They did exactly that, signing cornerback Sean Smith and ball hawk safety Reggie Nelson. Karl Joseph was next up, added with the No. 14 overall draft pick.
There’s no question the Raiders are better in the back but, as Del Rio always says, pass defense is a combination of rush and coverage. The Raiders got better up front by adding free agent Bruce Irvin and drafting Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun in the second and third round, respectively.
Mario Edwards Jr. also provided a lift early this month, receiving clearance to play following a nasty neck injury. Aldon Smith could provide a jolt this winter after his suspension ends.
The Raiders have new faces aplenty, and have gotten to know each other during the offseason program. Activity ramps up Tuesday with the start of OTAs, a 10-workout stretch run more like an NFL practice. Pads aren’t allowed yet, but new players can start integrating into Ken Norton Jr.’s scheme.
This defense has talent. Success will hinge on health and playing together. Work on the latter lasts all offseason, but starts in earnest this week.
The Raiders have firepower on offense, but an intimidating defense is key to realizing expectations in 2016. The players understand that, and are confident they’re doing what is required to be successful on defense.
The effort is led by Mack and Irvin, who have assumed leadership roles during this offseason.
“Those guys recognize what they’re pulling out of each other and what they’re demanding of their teammates,” Del Rio recently said in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s more about that commitment level and a willingness to work and pay the price. The only you accomplish great things is by putting in the work. They know they’re doing what is required to have a special year. That’s what we’re excited about right now.”
We’ll get our first look at the Raiders on Tuesday during a practice open to the press, but here’s an all-too-early two-deep defensive depth chart projection that will get solidified throughout the spring and summer.
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. – Denico Autry
NT: Dan Williams – Stacy McGee
DT: Justin Ellis – Jihad Ward/Leon Orr
EDGE: Khalil Mack – Edwards Jr./Damontre Moore
ILB: Malcolm Smith – Neiron Ball**
ILB: Ben Heeney – Neiron Ball**
SLB: Bruce Irvin – Shilique Calhoun
CB: Sean Smith -- TJ Carrie
FS: Reggie Nelson – Nate Allen/Keith McGill
SS: Karl Joseph* -- Nate Allen
SCB: TJ Carrie – Neiko Thorpe
CB: David Amerson – DJ Hayden
* Joseph is rehabbing from a knee injury, won’t be ready until training camp
** It’s uncertain whether Ball is healthy enough to practice during this OTA period