Free agency and the NFL Draft are over. The Oakland Raiders still have a decent-sized list of question marks going into September, most notably the poor run defense of theirs that has ranked about dead last for half of the last decade.
The Raiders during the past five years against the run have ranked 22nd (2004), 25th (2005-2006), and 31st (2007-2008). They also have given up 101 rushing touchdowns over the past five years, which is the highest ever in NFL history over any five-year span.
Not one defensive tackle was drafted by the Raiders, but they made two signings through free agency. They signed defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti, who spent the past five years working his way up from the practice squad in Washington to the active roster, and undrafted Harvard defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.
You would figure the Raiders would look to sign a bigger tackle, someone who could preferably play the nose.
With no true nose tackle (since Terdell Sands has slipped in overall play since his best season in 2006) the Raiders are more than likely expecting more points to be scored on offense, ultimately helping the defense by keeping them off the field.
Boschetti and Bryant both weigh less than 300 pounds, so Sands and Gerard Warren still remain the two biggest defensive linemen on the roster.
The curious thing is, if Warren weighs 330 pounds, and Sands weighs more, the Raiders are thinking a new coaching staff will turn these players into better ones. Fat chance, but with all the money they have tied up at defensive tackle (Warren and Tommy Kelly are both making $5 million+), Al Davis and Tom Cable believe in the people they have for now.
Run defense is something the Raiders have not done well executing during the Rob Ryan era, but the Raiders think they will turn the corner with the new John Marshall staff calling plays instead Ryan.
Marshall has been known to at least get pressure on the quarterback, and with the Raiders drafting a couple more pass rushers in the draft in Stryker Sulak and Slade Norris, they should mesh well with Trevor Scott and Derrick Burgess for a nice pass rush.
A problem for the Raiders is having more pass rushers than stout run defenders. The Raiders are hoping having all these high motor players, including fourth round pick defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, will equal success.
Ryan and his staff's questionable methods came to the forefront when they started to play pass rushers on running downs, with Burgess at end and Warren at the nose.
If the last Raiders coaching staff knew anything, it was that Sands wasn't the best fit to play every down against the run (or they just gave up on him) since Warren saw the majority of playing time.
Trevor Scott and Jay Richardson, two defensive ends on the Raiders roster, are no starters either, one being a situational pass-rusher that lacks size (Scott) and the other having great size but who's yet to come into his own since being drafted by the Raiders in 2007 (Richardson).
The problem with the Raiders' defensive line is that they have too many role players and only one clear-cut starter in Tommy Kelly. In order for him and the others around him to be effective, there must be better play around him, and it all starts with Terdell Sands.
The nose tackle position is the first cannon on your line of defense. If he misses or doesn't even get in the vicinity (disrupt the play in some way), it certainly doesn't make the man's job next to him or behind him easier.
The Raiders need Sands to step it up and play better; that's what it all comes down to. This guy looked like a monster at home against the Chargers (two sacks) in the close loss that was Lane Kiffin's ticket out of town. Sands basically swallowed two linemen in one of his two sacks, which is why he looked like a beast.
Better utilization, better coaching, and better play—specifically from the big men up front—need to happen for the Raiders to not once again reign supreme in horrid run defense.