The all-important third preseason game is just days away for the Oakland Raiders. Today they hold their last training camp practice in Napa, California before hosting the Chicago Bears Friday. Because the third preseason game offers the coaching staff a longer look at the first team, the Raiders are getting healthy just in time.
The defensive line has been an area hit very hard by injuries. Both projected starting defensive tackles, Pat Sims and Vance Walker, have missed the majority of practice time and haven't seen a snap in preseason. The same goes for defensive end Lamaar Houston, who was far and away the best defensive linemen for the team a year ago. Because of these subtractions, the Raiders defensive line has struggled in preseason. On Friday against the Bears, Houston will play. Walker and Sims' status has yet to be determined, but they are both back on the practice field.
“We’re getting closer to that point though,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of the defense coming together. “I think as we get closer to the start of the regular season I think it’s important. We’ve got a lot of new parts to this defense. I think having those guys out here and getting them a chance to work together, the more we’re able to do it between now and the opening game of the season, the better we’re going to understand how to play together. It was a start to have the majority of those guys back out here. It’ll be good as we go through the rest of training camp, through the rest of these practices, the Chicago game, the Seattle game, and get a chance for these guys to work together.”
It has been very difficult to evaluate the Raiders defensive line because of the injuries. Three of the four projected starters are not of on the field. So far this preseason, the line has not been impressive rushing the pass. Last week against the Saints, rookie David Bass showed very well with a sack and forced fumble that led to a defensive touchdown by Ryan Robinson. Defensive end Jack Crawford made a few nice plays in the second preseason with a sack and fumble recovery. On the downside, they were not made against the Saints first team and when the first team was on the field, Drew Brees had plenty of time.
“In the first two preseason games, there are guys who may not normally enter the game until the third quarter, that are in, in the first quarter against Drew Brees, which gives us a good opportunity to evaluate them,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “And, we had some guys respond last week; our younger defensive linemen, Jack Crawford, David Bass, Ryan [Robinson], they made some plays. So, they’ve been able to get some experience. Now, we do want to see, and this is what’s good about our defensive line getting healthy, we want to see our first unit play together. So it’ll be closer to that in the next two weeks.”
Houston's return should be a huge boost. Walker and Sims are focused on getting healthy and will not be rushed into preseason action. It is important to get them playing and build chemistry with teammates, but they are veterans and being healthy for the regular season is paramount. Guys further down on the depth chart will have a chance to step up and show their value, like Bass, Robinson, and Crawford last week.
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