The Oakland Raiders secondary was a huge need area when the offseason began. As a result general manager Reggie McKenzie added some pieces to help alleviate those concerns. The Raiders front seven is going to be the strength of this defense, but the secondary looks better than it has in the past two seasons.
One of the major problems in the secondary last season was safety Tyvon Branch being lost for the season with an ankle injury. He is the Raiders most critical piece on the back end. McKenzie indicated that Branch is healthy and will be able to go during offseason workouts. That is terrific news for Oakland. He has the range to cover deep if necessary and the athleticism to match-up with tight ends. He is a tackling machine and physical presence coming into the box to play the run. That versatility will benefit the defense as a whole.
Charles Woodson returns for another year with the Raiders to further shore up the back end. Although Woodson is 37-years-old, he still is a productive player. He possesses the playmaking ability he has his whole career. Woodson notched 97 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and recovered a fumble that he returned for a score in 2013. Oakland has the depth in Usama Young to allow Woodson to play to his strengths. Young is a big hitter with some ability to get to the quarterback on a blitz. Those three safeties will be able to rotate around because of their versatility and help the Raiders improve their pass defense. Seventh round safety Jonathan Dowling is a low risk/high reward selection. If he can show his ability in camp, Dowling has a chance to play.
Oakland struggled against the pass in 2013 allowing 255.8 yards per game, which ranked near the bottom of the NFL. To combat that weakness, Oakland acquired two former San Francisco 49ers in Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown to pair with 2013 first round pick DJ Hayden. Rogers has the versatility to play inside in the slot and bounce outside when necessary. Brown is expected to play opposite Hayden on the outside. If Hayden is the player that the Raiders believe he is, using a first round pick on him, the combination of Hayden and Brown is the best the Raiders have had in recent memory. Oakland used Ron Bartell and Shawntee Spencer as well as Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins in the last two seasons.
Hayden is the key to the Raiders revitalization in the secondary. His injury history is serious and a huge concern. He has gotten significantly bigger this offseason to help his body hold up against the NFL schedule. He will have to start showing that lockdown corner ability the Raiders saw when they drafted him.
To help the cornerback position further, Oakland added Keith McGill in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. McGill gives Oakland a very different corner than anyone on the roster because of his size at 6-3, 210 pounds. With so many big receivers in today's NFL, a trend has developed to take bigger corners. McGill fits that bill. He has the versatility to play cornerback and safety. With a solid training camp, McGill has a chance to be in the rotation.
The secondary is the most questionable part of the Oakland defense. DJ Hayden will be a huge key to its success. Having Tyvon Branch back with his versatility and ability should help massively. The secondary should benefit from a far improved pass rush as well. Oakland's defense looks like a legitimate strength in 2014.
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