Five things the Oakland Raiders must address after the bye

5 of 6

Oct 11, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) throws a pass under pressure by Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (97) at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Continue to Prepare Rookies to Start on Defense

With the season-ending injury to Tuck, second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr. is the next man in line to step up in his place. Though he was projected to develop behind the veteran in front of him. Edwards Jr. will have to start making plays earlier than he might have expected. Luckily for Oakland, the former Florida State star has rapidly progressed into a productive player within Oakland’s front seven in recent weeks.

While he has yet to consistently create pressure on the quarterback, Edwards Jr. has started to perform admirably as a run defender in a 304 defensive end role. Though PFF has him at just 71.2 overall grade in defending the run, he still is improving with the experience he gains week to week.

Heading into the 2015 NFL draft, Edwards Jr. was often criticized for his lack of effort on the defensive side of the ball, but he looks to have progressed past that since entering the NFL. I counted at least two times in Oakland’s game against Denver when Edwards Jr. made an “effort” play, as he made a tackle both on the back side of a run and aided a tackle on a wide receiver screen thrown on the outside.

Another rookie on Oakland’s defense that stepped up against Denver is former University of Florida linebacker Neiron Ball. Though he was primarily a special teams player before Oakland’s Week 5 contest, Ball was called upon to serve a major role in matching up against Denver tight end Owen Daniels for a majority of the game.

Ball did more than hold his own against Daniels, as he held Daniels to zero catches. Ball’s tight coverage also forced an errant throw from Peyton Manning in the end zone that resulted in an interception from Charles Woodson.

Though  he has seen a limited amount of snaps, Ball currently ranks as the 19th-best linebacker overall according to PFF.

Next: Find Targets for Clive Walford