Orig. published Thursday, May 29, 2008 www.raidernationstation.com
The big 3 at DT
With Hall of fame candidate Warren Sapp off the map, Oakland looks to improve its suffering defense from within.
Unsubstantiated rumor has it Oakland defensive tackle Terdell Sands lost family members in 2007.
A drop off in motivation and production would be more than understandable, but I can't find mention of it anywhere out side of forums.
I've heard this before and if true, my condolences. If not true, my condolences to fans who saw Sands under perform and finish the year with only 24 tackles despite the incentive.
Listed at 6-7, 335 lbs., (riiiiight), much has been made of the large contract he received in 07' and subsequent under achievement.
The 4 year deal is back end loaded and reportedly worth around $17 million dollars.
It paid Sands his base salary of $800, 000 in 2007, but will ramp up as his contract goes along, earning him $1.2 million in 2008, $1.3 in 09' and if he's still on the roster, $4.6 million in 2010.
Fans are hoping for a big improvement in 08', which is achievable if he learns how to make the best use of his strength, learns to follow the ball, sharpens his technique and shores up his tackling. Raider fans will be watching to see if he comes into his own this year.
Same for Gerard Warren.
Warren bounced from Cleveland to Denver and then to Oakland and hasn't yet lived up to his vaunted 1st round status.
More of a one gap penetrator, the 6-4, 325 lb Warren joined Oakland as a surprise pick up 3 weeks after Broncos training camp closed.
Warren was shopped by the Broncos even though he agreed to a dramatic reduction in salary in the spring of 07' from around $4 million to the League minimum for veterans, $595, 000.
Instead, Denver went another direction with its defensive scheme (unsuccessfully I might add.) and the Raiders acquired him for a conditional 5thround pick in 2008. (Arizona RB Ryan Torain ended up being the Broncos pick)
Reports state the Raiders didn't attempt to rework his contract, instead offering him a $2 million dollar bonus if he performed in 50% of all defensive snaps, but he is due $4 million in 08' and $4.63 in 09' and $4.68 in 2010 unless the Raiders rework him.
He missed games last year, first with a thigh injury during the bye week and again later with a quadriceps.
When he was on the field he seemed an improvement over the lack luster Sands, making 4 sacks (one for a Safety against the Broncos.) 22 tackles and a forced fumble in the 12 games he appeared.
If Warren can finally get more consistent and stay healthy, he can apply pressure on passing downs that may require a double team, freeing defensive end sack artist Derrick Burgess to chase after another Pro Bowl slot in 09' after a disappointing 07'.
Add the relentless tenacity of Tommy Kelly to the mix and the Raiders may be onto something.
Much was made at the time of Kelly's contract signing this off season and it is remarkable that a former free agent walk on with so few stats could be given the largest contract ever awarded the position.
Adding to the surprise was the fact Kelly endured reconstructive knee surgery in the off season after an injury week 8 against the Titans saw him miss the rest of the year.
When healthy, Kelly has proven himself a valuable contributor to the Raider D, showing growth, relentless hustle and diversity. The 6-6, 300 lb Kelly is capable of playing anywhere on the line, from DT to DE in 3-4 or 4-3 giving the Raiders options should injuries to others occur, but more than that, Kelly has shown himself to be a good tackler and a disruptive force on the line.
The former Mississippi Stater saw very limited action in his rookie year as an undrafted free agent in 2004, but was able to post 4 sacks including 3 in a row from weeks 7 thru 9. He tallied 20 tackles and forced 3 fumbles as well.
In 05' the Raiders moved away from the 3-4 defense and Kelly proved himself again, this time as a run stuffing right end, but it wasn't until he moved back to DT
that his sacks started to come again.
In week 9 Kelly racked up 3 sacks against Kansas City and finished the year with 4.5 adding 47 tackles and another 3 forced fumbles.
68 tackles a forced fumble and 4 more sacks saw Kelly definitely coming into his own in 06'.
In 07' Kelly was again on pace for a solid year until the injury that sidelined him, tallying 30 tackles and a sack.
On the outside Kelly's contract may look like folly, but considering the X factor of his versatility, the fact he's been game changingly productive on a poor Raider defensive front and the many teams rumored to be interested in him his free agent year, the move starts to make more sense.
Still, at $50 million dollars over 7 years with $25.125 over the next 3 years and $18.125 million in guarantees, theres a lot to prove
If he comes on like Oakland expects and has a career year, it will certainly help silence critics of Davis' offer.
Like a microcosm of the Raiders entire team, the defensive tackle spot holds the potential for pay off or peril in 08'.
With a cellar dwelling run defense the past 5 years, combined with the big contracts awarded the past 2, fans are cautiously expecting a lot from the big men in the trenches, and Oakland will need it if they are to improve next season and in the years to come.
Fans are also hoping Al Davis made the right call selecting RB Darren McFadden over vaunted defensive tackle Glen Dorsey who went with the very next pick to division rival KC.
With the help of Mcfadden, the Raiders appear to be hoping to put up points and force other opponents away from the run.
If their DT's don't show marked improvement and continue to play like they have in recent memory, they better hope the plan works.