Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

May 26, 2007
Rushing to Raiders defense

Q: The Raiders supposedly have a great defense but teams still run on us at will. Will the nose tackle position be addressed through free agency or are we going into the season with the same unit?

- Patrick Grant, Sacramento

A: The Raiders rush defense last year was 25th in the NFL and they allowed opponents to average four yards a carry.

But this is a case where stats don't tell the whole story.

I wouldn't say teams ran at will on the Raiders. They ran because they knew with the defense on the field much of the game because of a horrendous offense, the defense would eventually wear down. Teams ran on the Raiders more than any other team in the NFL.

The Raiders held LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers in check for much of their game in San Diego before he broke through for a big run late, which was the case a lot of the season.

But there was also the game in which Houston's Ron Dayne had a flashback to his Heisman Trophy days at Wisconsin and ran where most teams had their success against the Raiders - up the middle.

The Raiders didn't sign or draft a nose tackle to eat up space. It looks like Terdell Sands, whom the Raiders re-signed, will be the answer to improving that position.

Tommy Kelly started most of the season at nose, but Sands (6-foot-7, 335 pounds and looks bigger) has the size and strength to eat up space in the middle to free up the linebackers to make plays.

So yes, it will essentially be the same group from last season. If they can eliminate some missed tackles and being out of position, the run defense should improve.

But if the offense isn't much better, the run-defense could rank near the bottom of the NFL again, just because teams will run, run, run.

- Jason Jones

Q: Don't you think Al Davis, gives coaches a say in the team? Last year he let (then coach) Art Shell take defensive back Michael Huff when he wanted Matt Leinart. Don't get me wrong, JaMarcus Russell is the future, hopefully a year out though.

- Mike, Calif.

A: Al Davis does give coaches some say, but don't be mistaken, he makes the final call on draft picks. Sure, he liked Matt Leinart, but if he really wanted him, he would have drafted him. Shell was hired knowing the team planned to take Huff.

The notion of Davis letting someone who hadn't been a head coach in more than a decade run his draft is about as crazy as the notion of Davis not having the final say on the draft pick.

- Jason Jones

Q: I've been trying to get an idea of how Johnnie Lee Higgins is performing as a wide receiver out there in mini camp and now in OTAs. Where do you see him fitting in to the receivers corp this season?

- Stephen McBride, Sacramento

A: Higgins looks like he could compete for time as a slot receiver. Outside of Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry, it looks like a battle to get on the field as a third or fourth receiver. Higgins also takes snaps as a punt returner.

It's tough to gauge sometimes in these workouts because I believe in practices that aren't full contact, the offense has a greater advantage.

Check back in August when I've seen how he does when the defense can put a hit on him over the middle and see how he reacts.

- Jason Jones

Q: The Raiders' Web site lists J.J. Milan, Kurt Campbell, Kyle Shotwell as new acquisitions at linebacker, as well as returnee Ricky Brown. Then there is Robert Thomas. It would seem the only linebacker job that might actually be up for grabs is Sam Williams' spot. If he loses out one would think it would be to Thomas. But I am interested in what you have seen and think of the new guys, who is lining up where, who has a chance at a starting job. I know its still really early, but what are your thoughts about this position?

- docmayhew, Ft. Bragg

A: Milan has actually been playing defensive end so we can take him out of the discussion.

When it comes to Williams' starting job, he will get pushed by Thomas, who his smaller and might be the most versatile linebacker on the roster. He practices at all three spots and believes he can start at any of them.

Ricky Brown is a special teams stalwart and he looks a lot more confident during workouts. I can't say I've paid a ton of attention to Campbell, but I have looked at Shotwell.

He was the Division I-AA Defensive Player of the Year at Cal Poly and seems to have good instincts. If he can prove to be effective on special teams and against the run - the area the Raiders defense needs to improve the most - I could see him backing up a couple of spots.

Also, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves to mix up packages to put players in the best position to make plays, so there's no telling what linebacker groupings we might see.

- Jason Jones

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About Raiders Blog and Q&A

Matt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee's sports staff in fall 2011.

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