Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp. The full squad will report on July 23, with the first practice day scheduled for July 25. In this installment, Scott focuses on defensive ends.
Who they have: Denico Autry, Jack Crawford, Shelby Harris, Ryan Robinson, Justin Tuck, C.J. Wilson, LaMarr Woodley
Who they lost: Lamarr Houston, Jason Hunter
Looking back: The Raiders struggled to generate a four-man pass rush, and much of that was due to inconsistent play from the defensive ends outside Houston. Houston was pitted against the opposing left tackle for the first time and was routinely double-teamed, making if difficult to generate pressure as the year went on. He finished with a team-high six sacks. Hunter was ineffective after the first few games. He struggled some with injury and even lost snaps to a tackle-heavy front where Vance Walker slid to end in the base defense. The Raiders didn’t get much from their substitutes either, which led to difficulties stopping offenses near season’s end.
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Overall outlook: Tuck and Woodley are a massive improvement over a year ago, and lend credibility to the pass rush. Tuck had 11 sacks last year and has always been productive when healthy. Woodley is switching positions, but there is optimism that he will benefit from playing end in a 4-3 base defense. He will be a vital cog in this pass rush, which could be explosive if he, Tuck and linebacker Khalil Mack are all effective pressure cookers. Tuck and Woodley must stay healthy, because there’s a lack of depth behind them. Wilson could be the best option, though he’s better against the run.
Camp competition: Young defensive ends have a real chance to step up and make an impact. The Raiders carried just four true defensive ends late last year, and that number could remain static with Mack’s versatility and Antonio Smith’s ability to play end in a pinch. They could add a fifth, given that Wilson could play inside too. Crawford is certainly an option to make the team, but is not a lock. Robinson, an undrafted free agent from a year ago, made the squad over seventh-round pick David Bass last year. He didn’t play much on defense, but can’t be counted out. Harris, a seventh-round pick, could be an option for the practice squad if he fares well after being out of football last season.