Rumor has it that newly hired General Manager Reggie McKenzie has hinted towards a 3-4 defense, a defense that many writers on this very site, including myself, have been begging for.
On Wednesday, McKenzie stated that the 3-4 is what he's familiar with. Sure, we could just manipulate any of his words into an article, but this is the man who wants to fire a pretty good coach to bring in guys he's "familiar" with, a la Winston Moss and Darren Perry.
The 3-4 defense for the Raiders can either kill or save their defense for years to come. The thing with the 3-4 is that the linebackers have to be better than the linemen. In the Raiders' case, the combination of Kelly, Seymour, and Houston, is much better than the likes of McClain, Wimbley, and Curry. However, the 3-4 has a tendency to save some putrid defenses.
In 2008, the Green Bay Packers had the 20th ranked defense, giving up 5,349 total yards. One major improvement was their run defense, going from giving up 131.6 yards a game to 83.3 in 2009, which was one year after changing to the 3-4. The Packers ended their 2009 season second in total ranked defenses.
Another example of how the 3-4 has helped team's defenses go from awful to awesome are the Houston Texans. The Texans went from 30th in 2010, to second after signing Wade Phillips to become their defensive coordinator. Houston had the worst pass defense in 2010, giving up 4,280 yards. The new and improved 3-4, one that causes a lot of pressure and wreaks havoc on quarterbacks, helped Houston to the third best pass defense, allowing only 3,035 yards.
It's tough for teams to just change, but with a full offseason the Raiders should have no problem making a change like this. With our personnel, the Raiders change should be even smoother.
Let's start up front, shall we? Team leader Richard Seymour won three Super Bowls playing for New England in the 3-4 defense. He has the skills and leadership to play defensive end in our new defense.
Opposite Seymour can be the awfully energetic Lamarr Houston, who is a rock in run defense. Houston was a 4-3 defensive tackle in college, then moved to a 4-3 defensive end with his versatility, and has the skill to play as a 3-4 end.
Unfortunately, with only two end spots and a ton of end players, not everyone can get playing time. Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant can come in and bring pressure on passing downs. The Raiders will have to look during the offseason for a nose tackle.
Linebackers are going to take a while to group together, however. Rolando McClain excelled in the 3-4 defense at Alabama, winning a National Championship. He has taken a step backwards this season, but we just have to hope that he, too, will experience the third-season spark Heyward-Bey and McFadden both experienced.
As for Wimbley, I could see him excelling in the Sam linebacker position. He will do some rushing, but will be required to drop back into coverage some. The Jack position is one that will be very interesting. Personally, the Raiders have many options.
I believe the smartest decision would be to convert Trevor Scott to play Jack, the main pass rushing backer. Scott is a defensive end with versatility, much like Demarcus Ware and Mario Williams. Much like the nose tackle position on the front line, the Raiders will have to do extensive research to find someone to play next to Rolando.
Unfortunately, there are some odd players out if the Raiders do switch to the 3-4. Matt Shaughnessy, an obvious fan favorite, is too small to play 3-4 defensive end, yet a little too big to play the Jack position. He showed some versatility in the preseason when he picked off Alex Smith in the 49ers game, but we cannot expect him to do that all the time. And to put him in coverage would be a liability.
The other player that would have difficulty in the 3-4 is Aaron Curry. Curry, who started out hot with the Raiders, sizzled out by the end of the year. He had trouble in pass coverage and did not make the play often enough. It'll be interesting to see how McKenzie deals with these two men.
With McKenzie as our new GM, don't expect the Raiders to fill their nose tackle and inside linebacker positions through free agency. The Packers have done exceptionally well drafting their players in recent years. Many of their players from their Super Bowl team were hand picked through the draft, and I expect McKenzie to find some gems this year.
It's too bad the Raiders lack a first-round pick this year, as they could really use a guy like Dont'a Hightower, Vontaze Burfict, or Luke Kuechly. Instead, they will have to find someone in the middle rounds, which is where the Raiders have excelled. Some prospects to look out for are North Carolina's Kevin Reddick and North Carolina State's Audie Cole.
For defensive tackle, the 2012 Draft offers quite a lot of options. Dontari Poe of Memphis is an absolute rock. The junior stands at 6' 5" and weighs in at 350 lbs. Poe can easily require two blockers opening up holes for the linebackers to run through. The thing with Poe is, he has so much talent and is going to be a hot product come draft day.
But, fear not. I have found some other draft prospects at the coveted nose tackle position. T.J. Barnes of Georgia Tech is, too, a rock. Barnes has not decided whether or not he will enter the 2012 Draft, but he comes in at 6' 7" and weighs roughly about 350 lbs. If I remember correctly, Big John Henderson was only around 340 lbs.
Lastly, Hebron Fangupo of BYU, former USC Trojan, has a lot of potential. Fangupo is 6' 1" and weighs 330 lbs, but has a lot of talent. The man helped BYU earn the 19th best run defense in the entire nation, something the Raiders will really look at.
Obviously, the Raiders have a lot of things to consider this offseason. It will be very interesting to see how everything works out, whether it's Winston Moss, Darren Perry, or some dark horse candidate like Jon Gruden, which I heavily doubt.
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