After two preseason games and a trend that started last season, the Raiders’ defensive struggles are like a broken record at this point.
Tell me if you have heard this story before; the Oakland Raiders struggled on defense. The Raiders defense looking lackluster in the first two preseason games of 2017 might very well be an understatement right now.
However, this is the same unit that stepped up admirably at times last season which helped lead to a wild card berth. In spite of that, that was last season, and it just seems like whatever Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., and assistant coach John Pagano are doing isn’t sticking.
Time is running out as the team inches closer to the regular season and there is only so much you can do at this point; here are a few thoughts on some possibilities.
Everyone knows Khalil Mack is “all world” and the best defensive player in the NFL right now.
After that, there is little to scare opposing offenses on the defensive line. Mario Edwards Jr. has been unable to stay healthy, and while Eddie Vanderdoes is a promising rookie, he still needs time to develop. Denico Autry is an adequate role player, while Justin “Jelly” Ellis is nothing to write home about. Shilique Calhoun has been uninspiring, and not much else has come from the rest of the backups on the line.
Meanwhile, at linebacker, Bruce Irvin makes his name known more often than not with timely sacks. Cory James is a player I am beginning to come around on as he is playing sideline to sideline and keeps learning on the fly every week.
The Raiders’ fifth round draft pick Marquel Lee is obviously new and comes from a program (Wake Forest) that doesn’t produce much NFL talent. I can ultimately see what general manager Reggie McKenzie sees in these types of guys such as their size, instincts, speed, and while they certainly look the part, they all need time to understand the complications of what the National Football League is all about.
In the secondary, Sean Smith is on the chopping block. Meanwhile, David Amerson does what he can as he fights admirably to be the top corner on the team. T.J. Carrie is inconsistent as seen Saturday night against Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.
Breon Borders is probably nothing more than a backup at this point. Then there is first round draft pick Gareon Conley whom I believe can and must turn out to be a shutdown corner. Conley’s got everything you want in a cornerback.
He was pretty much as close as you can get to an elite defender at Ohio State with six interceptions, 15 pass break-ups, and 91 tackles all in his college career. He played his best in big moments against Michigan State (game clinching interception). Three tackles and another interception on the road in a victory versus Wisconsin. Moreover, in the loss to Clemson, he recorded six tackles and yet another interception. I cannot stress it enough that the Raiders must hit BIG on this draft pick.
Let’s not forget sophomore safety Karl Joseph is coming along nicely. Reggie Nelson will be gone before you know it with all the young guns that find themselves in Silver and Black. Shalom Luani could be a seventh round steal, and we have yet to watch Obi Melifonwu hit the field. These youngsters will take over the defensive backfield sooner rather than later and may be able to provide the spark that the rest of the unit so desperately needs to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Roster Cuts, Trades & Free Agents
Maybe McKenzie will go this route and pull the trigger on soon to be released veterans or available ones. Dan Williams remains unsigned and while it is a possibility; one has to doubt if McKenzie would be that desperate.
Defensive tackle Jared Odrick, defensive end Mario Williams, and even corner Darrelle Revis are still surprisingly on the market. Only time will tell if Reggie decides to give one of these veterans a shot, but I doubt he does that after drafting so much youth in the past few drafts. What about trading for Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets? One of these solutions may be the way to go to help shore up this struggling unit in the short-term because let’s face it; the Raiders are in it to win NOW.