For the past few years, the defensive line has been blamed for the Raiders’ porous run defense. Defensive tackle always seemed to be on every fan’s wishlist. Well, last season the Raider defensive tackles showed why, despite the outcry for upgrades at the position, the team hasn’t spent high draft choices on the position.
The run defense improved last season but only because from the bottom, the only way you can go is up. They were still among the worst in the NFL, but no longer could the blame for the run defense issues be placed on the shoulders of the defensive tackles.
The group of defensive tackles the Raiders fielded put up some of the best numbers in the NFL.
Seymour was moved to defensive tackle last season after having played defensive end his entire career. He was a 3-4 defensive end for the Patriots and was named All Pro several times. When the Raiders acquired him just prior to the 2009 season, they inserted him into the lineup to play 4-3 defensive end and he made an immediate impact. But in the 4-3, he is more suited to playing the 3 technique defensive tackle position so the team shifted him over prior to last season. The move was a tremendous success as Seymour put up the best tackle numbers of his career en route to being named to his first Pro Bowl since 2006. He also racked up 7.0 sacks along the way. He was the unquestioned leader of the defense and a primary factor for the improved play along the defensive line. He was signed to a new two year deal this offseason, making him the highest paid defender in the NFL. It was a steep price but Al Davis has never shied away from paying over market value to ensure the Raiders retain their most important players. And they don’t get more important than Richard Seymour.
The former undrafted free agent had one of his best NFL seasons last year. It was well overdue after he signed a big money contract following the 2008 season. That contract briefly made him the highest paid defensive tackle in football, much to everyone’s shock. He and Seymour proved to be quite the dynamic duo in the trenches. Kelly, too, had 7.0 sacks on the season as the feeding frenzy was evenly dispersed among the linemen. His 59 combined tackles was best among Raider defensive lineman and fourth on the team. He played at the 5 technique defensive tackle position for the first time in his career after Seymour moved over to take his previous position at the 3 technique. The result was playing at a Pro Bowl level despite almost no recognition from the league in that regard.
Desmond Bryant was another undrafted free agent gem, like Tommy Kelly. He was signed prior to the 2009 season and immediately made an impact. He has been a solid situational player and depth for the past two years. He has started before and played quite well.
John Henderson was a cast off from Jacksonville after a multiple Pro Bowl career with the Jaguars. He was signed as a free agent before last season. The Raiders don’t ask him to start and in limited duty he is easily able to play at or near the level of which we know him to be capable. He has been re-signed to the Raiders and will continue to be a guy who can come in and play at a high level when needed.
The Raiders will have this entire group back next season and they will again make up one of the best groups of defensive linemen in the league. With two Pro Bowl caliber starters and two backups capable of being starters in their own right, this group will continue to be one of the strongest in the league next season.
Roster status: Strong
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