Remember Hue Jackson? Wow, seems so long ago that the energetic Bengals offensive coordinator was the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders. While I was always of fan of Hue, his out-spoken nature and disastrous Carson Palmer trade will always highlight his short time with the Silver and Black.
During Hue’s tenure as Head Coach, one of his many catch phrases and sayings was, ” We’re going to build a bully” . While Jackson had the right mentality and philosophy, he never had the players necessary to complete his mission.
Football is a game of inches, and is often times won in the trenches. If you can’t block anyone, and you can’t get off blocks, it’s gonna be a long day for any football team.
Fast forward to 2014, and “on paper” Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders are looking like “Bullies” in a tough AFC West Division. Armed with a solid free agent group, and a great draft class, the Raiders have improved at nearly every position.
Even more impressive the Raiders have addressed two devastating weaknesses in the 2013 season, the Offensive and Defensive lines.
On the offensive side of the ball, we are seeing the great influence of Tony Sparano on this Oakland Raiders OLine. In free agency and the draft, it has been obvious McKenzie has gone after big bodies apt in a power-man scheme.
Right tackle Austin Howard and his 6’7, 333lbs, is assumed to be making the move to right guard along side 2013 second round pick Menelik Watson at right tackle. On the left side the 6’5 340lb Donald Penn fills in for departed Jared Veldheer. While Penn is on the wrong side of 30, and struggled at times in pass pro last year, ProFootballFocus rated him a solid 8.1 overall and a positive 4.4 against the run.
Next to him should be “Plug and Play” rookie left guard Gabe Jackson at 6’4, 340lbs. Jackson should easily win the battle over free agent acquisition Kevin Boothe and veteran Khalif Barnes, who should provide depth. Add in underrated Center Stefan Wisniewski and you have the potential for one dominant line.
The next key is versatility from your OLineman. This is a hallmark of a Tony Sparano coached team, and something he looks for. Both Penn and Howard can play inside or at tackle if need be, same can be said of Watson and the ever versatile Khalif Barnes. Sparano knows the value of a versatile offensive lineman, and will now have the talent and depth necessary to put the best front five on the field every Sunday. Can you say no more 10 Sack games?
On defense it now begins and ends with 1st round pick Khalil Mack. A potentially devastating pass rusher who not only has the speed to get around opposing tackles, but the strength to knock them on their backsides. Mack is poised to fill in right away on the strong side, but will see extensive time on the DLine as well. Mack joins a bevy of devastating pass rushers in Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, and Antoinio Smith, who are a bit long in the tooth
But the most exciting pairing may be along side 2013 3rd round pick Sio Moore. I was initially concerned about how these two emmensley talented players, who play the same position and have similar strengths, could co-exist on this Raiders defense. But at the end of the day, talent trumps all. Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen are going to have a field day drawing up diverse schemes every week utilizing theses talented players.
To add to the beef up front, the Raiders re-signed talented but inconsistent Pat Sims, to go along with Stacy McGee. Add in 2014 4th round pick Justin “Jelly” Ellis, and you have a trio of young talented run stuffers. Ellis is a player I am extremely excited about, a poor man’s Vince Wilfork. Ellis has a rare quality in a big Nose Tackle that you rarely see, that is his “High Motor”. A stout big man, with great agility and plays to the whistle. Just stay away from “Mama’s Home Cooking”.
Just like the Offensive Line, the Defensive Line is built around versatility. Many of the players Reggie McKenzie and the Raiders have brought in can play all across the DLine. Tuck has experience sliding inside against guards on nickel and 3rd down situations. Woodley obviously has experience in a 3-4 scheme playing outside LB, and Smith has played the 5 and 3 technique in numerous defensive schemes.
Khalil Mack fits this mold, a hybrid player for a hybrid defense. Mack is the definition of a do everything defender, who is scheme versatile and can attack the passer both standing up and with a hand in the dirt.
The Raiders have quickly established a very scary defensive front, that can fit any game plan, and attack from any direction.
Reggie McKenzie has made it a point of emphasis this off-season to get bigger, stronger, and more dominant on both sides of the ball. Building a bully the right way, through the draft and with key veterans who know how to win.
2014 should be the year the Raiders stop being doormats and start imposing their will in the competitive AFC West.