Added Veteran Presence Should Give Oakland Raiders' Defense a New Identity

By John Leahy
Defensive End Justin Tuck and the Oakland Raiders' New Look Defense
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After being plagued by injury in 2011 and 2012, former New York Giants two-time Pro-Bowl DE Justin Tuck rebounded in 2013, posting some of the best numbers in his career.

He was able to do this at the all-too criticized age of 30. Since entering the league in 2005, Tuck finds himself sixth all-time in Giants history with 60.5 sacks. Following his signing of a two-year, $11 million contract this offseason with the Oakland Raiders, the defense became instantly better.

With the additional offseason acquisitions of LaMarr Woodley, Carlos Rogers and Antonio Smith, the re-signing of Charles Woodson and the drafting of collegiate linebacking stud Khalil Mack, the Raiders’ 21st overall ranked defense from 2013 seems all too destined to make a top-10 push.

Finishing ranked 10th in the run (107.9) and 27th in the pass (255.8) last season, Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie acted both rationally and aggressively with the team’s finances. The end results were versatility, depth and leadership. On paper, the defensive line looks like so: LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Pat Simms and Justin Tuck. Not too shabby.

Between the four of them, they combine for four Pro-Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl Championships. Thus, experience won’t be an issue. At one side of the line, Woodley will deal with having to adjust to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver‘s 4-3 approach, but the move from a pass-rushing linebacker in a 3-4 to a rushing end in a 4-3 shouldn’t fair too hard for a man with 57 career sacks already under his belt.

He seems to have a general idea of what he’s doing. At the other side, Tuck has experience playing both end and moving into the interior part of the line if need be. He was highly successful at both rushing the passer and stopping the run in New York.

Furthermore, with leading sack getter from 2013 Lamarr Houston (six sacks) going to Chicago and second leading sack getter Nick Roach (5.5 sacks) manning the Raiders’ MLB position, the team’s pass rush now seems, well, more like a pass rush. Roach can focus on being the defensive general they need, and the newly added pressure can hopefully provide help for the pass, as well as already add to the success of the run defense.

As the regular season approaches, the coaching staff will continue to ensure these guys get reps together, while also closely monitoring their health.

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