Wednesday, Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said the team goal was the playoffs. In yesterday’s press conference, Jon Gruden said the team had a lot to prove. After the press conference was done, it was announced they had signed K.J. Wright.
Fixing the 25th ranked defense in terms of yards and the 30th ranked defense in terms of scoring is no easy task. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was tasked with looking over the roster and finding players for his hybrid-style defense. After churning through the roster and a few injuries at key spots, Bradley has brought in five of his former players; Wright, Darius Philon, Casey Hayward, Denzel Perryman, and Roderic Teamer.
Free agent LB K.J. Wright just told me he is signing with #Raiders on a 1-year deal.
— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) September 2, 2021
The defense is now made up of enough veterans and quality players to begin instilling hope amongst the previously hopeless. For years, linebacker has been a position long ignored, devalued, and mismanaged. The pass rush has been incapable of collapsing the pocket and taking the quarterback down, and down hard. The secondary was devoid of ball hawks, decent safeties, and turnovers.
As it stands, the starting defensive roster could potentially look like this: LCB Casey Hayward, BS Johnathan Abram, PS Tre’von Moehrig, RCB Trayvon Mullen, WLB Cory Littleton, MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB KJ Wright, LDE Maxx Crosby, LDT Gerald McCoy, RDT Johnathan Hankins, and RDE Yannick Ngakoue.
As a group, this is probably one of the best collections of defensive talent the Raiders have seen in an awfully long time. Armed with depth, the Raiders can now rotate defensive linemen and linebackers at will.
The defense goes deep
Philon was a bully on the field during the preseason. Largely unblockable, extremely quick, and agile. He appears to be all the way back from his injury. Quinton Jefferson is another of the quality veteran backups, he looks to feature heavily in passing situations. Former first-round draft picks Clelin Ferrell, Solomon Thomas, and Damon Arnette are in complementary roles on this team instead of having to be the best of the best.
Nate Hobbs, the rookie from Illinois, with professional grooming from coach Lovie Smith has been a welcome sight. All over the field, he has displayed ball-hawking abilities, physicality in the screen and run game, as well as an ability to blitz. Earning himself a spot at the starting nickel position is huge for a team that previously employed an undersized player with positional anxiety. No matter where you look on the defensive depth chart, there is talent from top to bottom.
Something to prove…
‘We obviously have a long way to go, a lot to prove. A lot of players didn’t play much at all in the preseason. But we practice hard, we practice smart. We’ve had a lot of reps. So, I do like the nucleas of our team… But we have a lot to prove.’ -head coach Jon Gruden.
Last season, Gruden’s Raiders boasted the 10th highest points per game average at 27.1 and total overall points at 434. They had a thousand-yard back in Josh Jacobs, the third-best tight end in the league Darren Waller, and the seventh-rated quarterback in the league, Derek Carr. Supposedly, it’s been the defense holding this team back.
‘We do like our defensive line, we made a number of changes there and we’re anxious to see them play.’ -Gruden
Gruden has made a number of promises. He has given speech after speech and answered every question he could except these. Can he win? Can he get the Raiders over the hump? Will he restore old glory and get back to the Super Bowl and win? So far, the answer has been no. We have seen this team lack toughness and crumble down the stretch in consecutive years.
Changes have been made. The largest and hopefully most impactful, bringing in the best defensive coordinator the Raiders have had in a long time. Bradley has been a defensive mastermind and his staff has a resume filled with success wherever he has gone. With the sweeping changes made in terms of defensive personnel, it is clear there was a talent evaluation issue in the Raiders organization. If Bradley can get this defense into a middle-of-the-pack unit or better, there isn’t a reason why the Raiders can’t make the leap into the postseason. Gruden will need to call all the right shots as though he has something to prove this season.
*Top Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post