Raiders defenders can prove worth by fighting through fatigue

Tarver: 'We want to see who can push through this'

Raiders defenders can prove worth by fighting through fatigue
December 20, 2013, 8:00 am
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The Oakland Raiders want to see who can push through this and make plays all these snaps. That’s the challenge to them.
Jason Tarver

Programming note: Watch Friday’s Raiders press conference with Dennis Allen streaming live right here at 1:15 p.m.

The Raiders defense is worn down, and for good reason. This starting unit has been taxed far beyond its limit, with snap counts ranging from high to downright absurd.

A lapse can be expected, after so many snaps.

Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver understands, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to hear excuses, even logical ones, on the bitter end of a four-game losing streak. Not with two shots at redemption remaining.

Clearly understanding strong words will travel from reporter’s notebooks to his players’ ears, Tarver issued a stern challenge to a defensive corps loaded with expiring contracts.

The message was simple: Over the final two games, we’ll see who really wants to be a Raider.

The Raiders have six defensive starters on one-year contracts, largely team-friendly deals where good play would lead to a far better deal. End Lamarr Houston is at the end of a four-year deal. They all want to get paid here or somewhere else. Most claim they’d like to stay in Oakland. Tarver would like them to prove it by digging deep and playing well.

“This is a great opportunity for our players,” Tarver said. “Almost every player on our defense has set a career high in snaps or starts. And what’s great for them is they were brought in to this to see if they could do it. The facts are that a lot of them are on one-year contracts. I mean, that’s not my area, but that’s the facts. So what we want to see is who can push through this. The Oakland Raiders want to see who can push through this and make plays all these snaps. That’s the challenge to them.”

If only desire made a defense go round. The Raiders have lost traction over the last four weeks, giving up larger point totals each go round. The Raiders aren’t doing basic things right, like tackling in space, setting edges against the run and taking proper angles to the ball. Fundamentals were the cornerstone of Oakland's early-season defense, a proper mix of blitzing, secondary play and tackling well.

The Raiders are worse in every area. Injuries are an issue, but fatigue might be the biggest factor.

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“Yeah, it may be,” Tarver said. “But who’s going to push through because that’s how you earn the contract that they want, and that’s how we find out who’s going to fit in the future because we’re right on our process. We want to see which guys are going to push through. Who’s going to finish this thing? Who’s going to finish it the right way?”

In order to do so, some Raiders are going to fight through something they haven’t dealt with in years. The “rookie” wall. Middle linebacker Nick Roach has played all 954 snaps. Safety Charles Woodson and Houston will exceed 1,000 by season’s end. Linebacker Kevin Burnett, cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins and safety Brandian Ross should exceed 900.

The term fits several other veterans who signed a value deal with the Raiders for an opportunity to be a full-time starter or resurrect a career after a major injury.

“This is something that many hadn’t been through so they have to continue to work and continue to strive to get better and push through that soreness or whatever it is that you get late in the season,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “Everybody goes through it, but they’re probably not much different in a lot of ways than some of the rookies when they play an extended amount of plays. There comes a point where you have to push through that wall a little bit.”

In a cruel, yet logical twist for this taxed group, the better they play, the more rest they get.

“It can be something different to play with extra wear and tear on the body,” cornerback Tracy Porter said. “At the end of the day, we need to play as much as the other team has the ball. If we get off the field, we don’t play as much. The better we do, the less we have to play.”