The Oakland Raiders may have issues with their depth at defensive end, but their defensive line most certainly does not have that problem on the interior. Aside from the linebackers, no position group on this team is as deep as defensive tackle. While the Raiders may end up carrying five defensive tackles on the active roster, there will be a rotation of four guys who will get the lion’s share of the playing time.
Pat Sims and Stacy McGee are returning for their second seasons with the Silver and Black while veteran Antonio Smith and rookie Justin Ellis will join the rotation this season. Who’ll start will be one of the biggest story lines of training camp. Smith, who came over from the Houston Texans as a free agent, has a strong chance of starting just because he plays in a different style than the other guys.
At 6′ 4″, 289, he is much smaller than the rest of the defensive tackles on the roster. While Ellis, Sims and McGee are big-bodied beasts who’ll be responsible for clogging up running lanes in the middle of the line, Smith is more agile and will be responsible for penetrating the backfield to disrupt plays. In all likelihood, the starters will consist of Smith and one of the three big uglies.
With that being said, the role of starter at defensive tackle may end up being a rather ceremonious one. By all appearances, the Raiders want to employ a rotation, using all four guys in almost equal amounts to keep them fresh. Last season the defensive tackle play was improved over previous years, but a lack of depth showed late in the season when guys were clearly tired.
The Raiders may also move Justin Tuck in to play defensive tackle on clear passing downs. He did this with a lot of success in New York with the Giants and the Raiders may want to duplicate that. If so, they would end up with a line of four guys who all are pass rushing specialists.
The defensive tackle position may be the most improved unit on the team, and that says a lot considering the fact that it was pretty good last season. The Raiders made it obvious that they wanted to build from the trenches out during the offseason. There is still work to be done at defensive end, but the middle of the defensive line looks like it should be a relative strength for years to come.
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