Training camp is the time of the year that team’s start getting excited. It’s a lot easier for a team to look impressive in practice than it is during regular-season games. While the Oakland Raiders have impressed in a number of areas during training camp, some of their holes were made more clear. The team welcomed the Los Angeles Rams to Napa for a couple of joint practice sessions and LA’s offense didn’t face too much resistance from the Raiders.
In the Raiders’ defense, the Rams have one of the best offenses in the NFL and according to Ted Nguyen from The Athletic, the Los Angeles Chargers were also torn up in a joint practice with them. The Chargers have a defense loaded with pro bowl talents like Derwin James, Joey Bosa and Casey Hayward. The Rams were close to winning a Super Bowl less than a year ago and are probably expecting to get back there this season. While the Raider defense shouldn’t be too upset that they struggled against the Rams, it is indicative of the fact that the unit isn’t a finished product.
The Raiders Still Have Work to Do on Defense
The Raiders have made high profile additions all over the defense. In the front seven, the team signed Vontaze Burfict, Josh Mauro and Brandon Marshall and drafted Clelin Ferrell. In the secondary, the team signed LaMarcus Joyner and drafted Johnathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen. All of those players, except Mullen, are expected to start. Most of the Raiders returning defenders are young players that should develop over time. So right now the defense is a mixture of young players and players that are new to the team.
Growing pains are to be expected with so many new faces on defense. Though Paul Guenther’s unit didn’t play well last year, he’s proven in the past with the Cincinnati Bengals that he can put together a good defense. The Raiders unit should get better as the year goes on. Facing high powered offenses like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers both twice this year will be difficult, but Oakland will need to figure out how to slow those teams down if they have any chance of winning the division.
There are a couple of reasons to be excited about the potential of the defense. Burfict has had a couple of down years, but he’s still only 28 years old and a fresh start in Oakland could be exactly what he needed. He has pro bowl level talent when he’s at the top of his game. Gareon Conley is another player that could be really exciting. He came on strong towards the end of the year in 2018 and the Raiders expect him to develop into a shutdown corner. That’s not even to mention first-round rookies Abram and Ferrell, who both got praise from Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, according to Raiders on NBCS.
“I think when you look at Ferrell, you look at Abram, you feel those guys out there,” said McVay.
It’ll take some time, but the Raiders defense could be much improved in 2019.
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The Team Should Consider Adding Pass Rush Help
One thing that it’s looking the Raiders didn’t do enough to address was the pass rush. Ferrell looks like he’ll be an instant contributor, but whoever is lining up at the other defensive end spot could be lacking. Based on the team’s first depth chart, Josh Mauro will fill in as the other starting defensive end. Mauro has three sacks over 59 games in his career. He’s not going to all the sudden turn into J.J. Watt. Other candidates are Benson Mayowa, who has never had more than six sacks in a season or Arden Key, who had one sack in his rookie season. The team could take a chance on rookie Maxx Crosby, but it’s going to take some time for him to adjust to the NFL.
Oakland could look for outside help if they feel like their pass rush isn’t going to be good enough heading into the season. Houston Texans’ defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is in the midst of a holdout and could be available if the team doesn’t want to pay him. Many may scoff at the idea of the Raiders trading for a player like Clowney after trading away Khalil Mack. However, it doesn’t seem like Oakland foresaw how much they’d miss Mack. Ferrell has a lot of potential, but he’s not going to be able to do everything. Clowney would cost the Raiders some assets and money, which would be frustrating considering what happened with Mack. There isn’t any pass rush talent in the free agency pool, so the Raiders don’t have a lot of options. If it cost the team too much, they should pass on Clowney, but if they can work out a fair deal with the Texans, it might be worth it. A defensive line with Clowney and Ferrell has a lot of potential. Either the Raiders ride with what they got and hope for the best or they figure out a way to bring Clowney into town.