Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp, which opens on July 31.
Who they have: Nate Allen, Larry Asante, Jonathan Dowling, Jimmy Hall, Tevin McDonald, Brandian Ross, Charles Woodson
Who they lost: Tyvon Branch, Usama Young
Looking back: The Raiders gave Tyvon Branch serious cash to be their strong safety through 2017. The veteran didn’t last that long. He missed most of the past two seasons with injury, leaving youth to partner with veteran Charles Woodson. Brandian Ross was the primary replacement both times, though he fared far better in 2014 than the year before.
Usama Young was also lost early in the year, leaving Ross and in-season signee Larry Asante to help Woodson out. The Raiders showed a real reliance on Woodson, who exceeded 1,000 snaps for the second straight season.
Overall outlook: The Raiders wanted to upgrade the safety spot, and believe they did so by signing Nate Allen from Philadelphia. Allen has given up some big plays, but the Raiders hope he can be a ball hawk. It seemed like Allen played a lot of free safety in the offseason program, which should allow Woodson to be a more aggressive playmaker near the line of scrimmage.
Ross, Asante and second-year pro Jonathan Dowling are also in the mix, but will likely remain in reserve.
Camp competition: The Raiders tried to add safety depth by signing restricted free agent Sean Richardson, but the Packers matched that offer sheet. They’re left with Ross and Asante battling for the No. 3 spot, though it’s likely Ross has the advantage there.
Bottom line: Woodson and Allen will play a major role on this defense. Allen’s effectiveness will be particularly key on the back end. Woodson wasn’t suited to play center field as he was asked to do so much over the past two years. Allen can free him to make big plays. Ross is likely No. 3 safety, though he helped as a slot cornerback at times last year and fared well. Asante and Dowling will be heavy contributors on special teams and could fill in for a spell.
It should help a young cornerback crop to have veteran safeties in support. Both position groups must work together to strengthen a secondary that is a perceived weakness.