As the Oakland Raiders try to improve their defensive line play from a year ago, the defensive tackle position will be a key. The Raiders used this offseason to address this area by adding Vance Walker and Pat Sims as well as spending a draft pick on Stacy McGee. It is paramount that this group finds a way to bring consistent play to help the defense as a whole.
The Raiders had numerous issues against the run in 2012 as well as not getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. General manager Reggie McKenzie started off the free agency period by filling a big hole in the middle with Sims. The former third round pick out of Auburn can clog with middle with his 6-2, 310 pound frame. Rookie Doug Martin gashed the Raiders with a franchise record 251 rushing yards, many of which came from runs up the middle. Sims has the size and power combination to alleviate some of those concerns in the middle because he will take on double teams, freeing up the linebackers to roam. Because of his size, Sims will not be a three down linemen. He will rotate in as a run stuffing specialist with some ability to generate a pass rush.
Walker comes to Oakland after playing his first four NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. The former seventh round pick made nine starts last season, accounting for 32 tackles and three sacks. Walker becomes the centerpiece of the Raiders' defensive tackles after the team parted ways with both Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour this offseason. Walker and Sims have the most starting experience any defensive tackles on the team. The Raiders will be counting on Walker to make an immediate impact starting at training camp July 25th.
One of the leftovers from 2012 at defensive tackle is Christo Bilukidi. He was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft and came on late in the season as a rotational defensive tackle. At 6-5, 315 pounds, Bilukidi is the biggest man the Raiders have at defensive tackle. Despite that size, Bilukidi has some explosiveness as a pass rusher. With progression at training camp, Bilukidi has a chance to start come the season opener.
During the 2013 NFL Draft, the Raiders used a pick on Oklahoma defensive tackle Stacy McGee. McGee made 15 starts combined his sophomore and junior seasons, but only appeared in six games as a senior with zero starts. He has some potential as a top defensive tackle recruit coming out of high school, but off field concerns and suspensions derailed some of his progress in college. He will need to get that under control if he wants a chance to make the final roster. McGee can be a valuable part of the rotation, but will need a strong showing in training camp and a clean sheet off the field to make it work.
The final defensive tackle with a chance to earn playing time is Brandon Bair. Bair has some versatility with the ability to play inside and outside at defensive end. He spent almost all of last season as a member of the Raiders' practice squad. He was called up late in the year, but did not see the field. He is a former tight end who converted to defense at Oregon.
Although the Raiders lack star power at defensive tackle, this unit has a chance to be improved from 2012. Last season Richard Seymour missed a good portion of the year with injury and Tommy Kelly wasn't much of a factor with the exception of jumping offside in crucial situations. Now the Raiders bring in a new crop of defensive tackles in hopes of more success. They are young, but Walker and Sims both have starting experience. Look for this group to be hungry.
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