With the NFL Preseason on the horizon, the Oakland Raiders have plenty on their plate to deal with. The insurmountable pressure on Head Coach Jon Gruden to produce after a nine-year absence from coaching is evident. To make matters worse, the team is in a contractual war with superstar linebacker Khalil Mack, who is looking for a lucrative extension. Nevertheless, Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie needed to make the most of this offseason to upgrade the defense. The first step, is upgrading one of the league’s worst lines to give Mack help.
In 2016, the Raiders defense recorded a league-low 25 sacks. Despite this, Mack’s dominance resulted in him garnering the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of The Year. In 2017, the Raiders improved to No.24 overall with 31 sacks, but the lack of widespread production was evident. Opposite of Mack is veteran captain Bruce Irvin, who asked to double-down as an outside linebacker. Despite early struggles in 2017, Irvin was able to accumulate eight sacks. Aside from Irvin and Mack, only defensive tackle Denico Autry was able to accumulate five sacks. Autry excelled in a contract year, and has since departed for the Indianapolis Colts.
In the interior, 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr. has flashed immense potential, but has played just 30 games over three seasons. Edwards is entering a contract year, coming off an injury with plenty to prove to the Raiders and the other 31 teams. Between rotational defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and James Cowser, and nose tackles Jihad Ward and Treyvon Hester, the group combined for just one sack. Ward left, via trade to the Dallas Cowboys. Overall, Oakland came into the offseason in dire need of a revamped defensive line.
Oakland started the offseason by bringing in former Green Bay Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who gets the best out of his lineman over the years. Through the 2018 NFL Draft, Oakland used three of their nine picks on the defensive line. Second Rounder P.J. Hall out of Sam Houston State climbed draft boards thanks to good film and an incredible stat sheet.
In four seasons, Hall accumulated 37 sacks, 9 forced fumbles and 14 blocked kicks. LSU star defensive end Arden Key dropped to Oakland in the fourth thanks to off-the-field issues. Despite concerns, Key’s talent has never been a question. Under the tutelage of Irvin in Mack’s absence, Key has shined throughout training camp. In the fifth round, Oakland selected Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. Health concerns regarding heart issues caused the drop, putting a chip on the shoulder of the three-time All-Big 10 star.
In addition, Oakland brought in former San Francisco 49er defensive end Tank Carradine for added depth. While the group is very young overall, the veteran leadership of Mack, Irvin and Carradine may work wonders in the speedy development of Key and Hurst. For restricted free agents Calhoun and Cowser, the season is another opportunity to prove their worth. For Edwards, he needs to prove he can stay healthy and earn his keep surrounded by new additions. With so much on the line, it seems like the Raiders are putting their best foot forward to correct their flaws.