Jun 11, 2013; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback Tyvon Branch (33) and defensive backs Brandon Ross (29), Phillip Adams (28) and Charles Woodson (2) participate in drills at minicamp at the Raiders Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders Pre-Training Camp Breakdown: Defensive Backs and Safeties

The Oakland Raiders “Storied Franchise” has had many great defensive backs and safeties that have played for them.  From Willie Brown to Skip Thomas (Dr. Death), Jack Tatum to George Atkinson, or Charles Woodson to Nnamdi Asomugha, the list could go on and on.  Even NFL.com and NFL Network cannot deny that the Oakland Raiders have had some of the best cornerback tandems ever.  Willie Brown and Skip Thomas were ranked number 8 on the all time list, and Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes were ranked number 1.  Players, such as Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson, have enjoyed a lengthened career while playing for the silver and black before taking their place in Canton, Ohio (Hall of Fame).

Unfortunately, in the past few years, the position of cornerback and safety have been non-existent, to say the least.  Quarterbacks have picked apart our defensive backfield, and running backs have juked their way past coverage corners on their way to lengthy touchdowns.  Over-pursuing safeties, missed coverage by defensive backs, prevent defense packages, and injuries have plagued the Raiders.  As a result, General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Dennis Allen have had to address this position in the 2013 off-season.

First and foremost, the bloated contracts had to go.  Unfortunately, this meant getting rid of safety/converted defensive back Michael Huff.  Next to go were the 2012 free agent pick-ups who underperformed and couldn’t stay healthy (Shawnte Spencer and Ronald Bartell).  Another safety that I was sad to see leave was Matt Giordano.  Along with Huff and Joselio Hanson, Giordano was one of the top three tacklers in the defensive back field.  After the cuts and free agency had taken its toll, this left the Raiders with a rag-tag group of defensive backs and no safeties.  McKenzie and Allen had to work their magic and fill roster positions with limited resources.  The following is a list of the current defensive backfield roster: 

–       Free Agent Acquisitions:  DB-Mike Jenkins (Free Agent from Dallas Cowboys), DB-Tracy Porter (Free Agent from Denver Broncos), FS-Charles Woodson (Free Agent from Green Bay Packers), FS-Usama Young (Free Agent from Cleveland Browns), and SS-Reggie Smith (Free Agent from San Francisco 49ers). 

–       Rookies:  DB-D.J. Hayden (1st Round Draft Pick out of Houston), DB-Chance Casey (Undrafted out of Baylor), DB-Mitchell White (Undrafted out of Michigan State), and S-Shelton Johnson (Undrafted out of Wisconsin). 

–       Players from 2012 Roster:  DB-Chimdi Chekwa (2 years of experience), DB-Coye Francies (3 years of experience), DB-Joselio Hanson (9 years of experience), DB-Phillip Adams (4 years of experience), DB-Taiwan Jones (3 years of experience and converted from running back to defensive back), DB-Cory Nelms (1 year of experience), DB-Brandian Ross (2 years of experience), and SS-Tyvon Branch (6 years of experience). 

May 20, 2013; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Four moves this off-season have stood out to me, and they speak volumes as to the direction that McKenzie and Allen are going with the Raiders defensive backfield;

1)    First, re-signing S-Tyvon Branch was a must for the Raiders.  Branch combined for 94 tackles and had one interception in 14 games.  He may have a tendency to over-pursue at times, but his play has been consistent.

2)    Next, the Raiders signed DB-Tracy Porter and DB-Michael Jenkins.  These are two players that could be the starters in week one of the regular season.  They are veteran players with NFL success, and they both have something to prove.

3)    Then, drafting the best available defensive back in the 2013 NFL Draft was huge.  DB-D.J. Hayden is a dynamic player.  The only question that remains is how will he react to contact?  I don’t believe this will be an issue as he has been cleared by NFL Doctors to play football.

4)    Finally, the acquisition of FS-Charles Woodson.  He is a proven veteran player who brings experience coupled with aggressive play.  He can teach the younger players, especially Hayden, how to become a great defensive back.  His leadership and winning ways will be an instrumental tool this year.  He is, by far, one of the best to suit up in the silver and black.  Welcome back Charles!

I believe that this group of players will improve our defense.  The coverage corners are much better than last year.  This will allow our defensive line to penetrate the offensive line and get to the quarterback.  The safeties will plug the holes and jump routes to gain more interceptions.  Although the NFL has already written our team off, the Raiders defense will be there to prove everyone wrong.  The defense will keep games close, and it will allow our offense to score from inside the opponent’s 50 yard line.  Defense wins championships.

Tags: Charles Woodson D.J. Hayden Dennis Allen George Atkinson Jack Tatum Lester Hayes Michael Haynes Michael Jenkins Nnamdi Asomugha Oakland Raiders Reggie McKenzie Skip Thomas Tracy Porter Willie Brown

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