What has been abundantly clear over the last 12 months is that the Oakland Raiders have had a total change in their defensive philosophy.
Since their last appearance in a Super Bowl in 2002-03, when their defense ranked third against the run, they have never ranked better than 22nd in any year.
That is seven years of abysmal run defense.
Their personnel strategy during that time concentrated on the defensive secondary, leaving the front seven devoid of quality players and any real investment in terms of talent or draft picks. Players like Michael Huff, Fabian Washington, and DeAngelo Hall were brought in at great expense and never made any significant impact.
The last 12 months have seen a marked change in that approach.
It started with the acquisition of Richard Seymour last year from the Patriots for a 2011 first round pick and has continued through this offseason.
Kamerion Wimbley came in on a trade with the Browns for a third round pick (obtained as part of a package from the Pats for Derrick Burgess). Wimbley wasn’t an aging veteran we will try to squeeze an extra year or two out of, but a player in his prime who the Raiders clearly believe fits what they are trying to do.
Quentin Groves arrived from the Jaguars for a fifth round pick and only has two years in the league.
In the draft came middle linebacker Rolando McClain in the first round and defensive lineman Lamarr Houston in the second. How undrafted rookie Kellen Heard pans out is yet to be seen.
With the signing of defensive tackle John Henderson, the Raiders addressed their only remaining issue on defense by getting another big body to clog the middle. Henderson was a great decision by the Raiders because they were offered his services in a pre-draft trade for a fourth round pick but turned it down.
They now get Henderson for nothing but a one-year contract.
At 31 years old, Henderson cannot be that far past his physical prime and is well worth taking a gamble on. I believe he still has enough left to be an effective run defender for 15 to 20 snaps a game.
When you look at these moves as a whole, they represent the biggest investment in the defensive front seven (and therefore, by definition, in run defense) that I have seen in my 27 years as a Raider fan.
For so long the Raiders have ignored this problem. Now they have recognised it and are doing everything they can to fix it.
Where Oakland will go with the skill sets they have there, and whether they will continue to run a 4-3 or some kind of 3-4 hybrid, remains to be seen. Either way, they are collecting quality players once more for their front seven.
Remember the days of Howie Long, Matt Millen, Ted Hendricks, Lyle Alzado, Rod Martin, Sean Jones, and Greg Townsend?
The Raiders have taken some big steps towards seeing that kind of defense again in the East Bay.
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