One is a former third-round pick in 2008 who has had injury issues, including missing half of his team’s games in 2012.
The other is a seventh-round pick from 2009 who has had five sacks in four seasons.
Neither has been heralded with headlines and Pro Bowl selections. Yet together, the Raiders are hoping defensive tackles Pat Sims and Vance Walker can combine to be immovable forces in the middle of Oakland’s front seven.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said this week that Sims and Walker, both signed as free agents this offseason, are two reasons for optimism that the team’s run defense – so woeful in 2012 – has the potential to be better in 2013.
For the time being, the two are starters in the team’s organized team activities (OTAs) that are now in their third week. Both have a history of playing well against the run, which is why the Raiders pursued them.
“When you really look at it, that’s probably what they’re best suited to do right now,” Allen told the Bay Area News Group on Monday. “They play the run square, they come off and attack blocks like they’re supposed to. They’ve been gap-sound and fundamental in that regard.”
The Raiders ranked 18th in the NFL against the run in 2012, giving up an average of 4.3 yards per carry and 118.6 yards per game. In the red zone, Oakland rarely could stop an opponent, however, giving up 18 TDs on the ground, tied for 28th in the NFL.
Since the end of the 2012 season, the Raiders decided to part ways with two high-priced, older defensive tackles in Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour.
Sims, 27, the third-round pick by the Bengals from Auburn in 2008, is 6-foot-2 and 335 pounds and has been said to be a “brick wall” against the run. Sims was described by CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco as a good “under-the-radar” pickup who was behind two very good defensive tackles in Cincinnati. “When he was on the field he was a power player who has his best football in front of him,” wrote Prisco at the time the Raiders signed Sims in March. “The Raiders got him on a one-year deal, so he will be motivated. I like this move a lot.”
Walker, 26, the seventh-round pick by the Falcons from Georgia Tech in 2009, is 6-foot-2 and 304 pounds. He played 58 games in Atlanta with 79 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles. Off the field he’s laid back. On the field he’s a different player altogether.
“I’m violent,” Walker told Rebecca Corman of Raiders.com, speaking of his on-field demeanor. “Very emotion-driven, but at the same time, I always keep my composure. Just focused and whatnot. Team player. I like to win. That’s the biggest thing.”
Sims and Walker are part of the Raiders’ rebuilt defense that includes draft picks and bargain-priced free agents. Jason Hunter, another free agent signee, is likely to be one defensive end, opposite holdover Lamarr Houston. The linebacking and secondary corps also have been remade.
“We want guys that are football players, not wannabes,” general manager Reggie McKenzie told USA Today recently of his offseason acquisitions. “There’s a whole lot of wannabes. They look the part, think they’re the guy, but they’re not willing to do the work.”
Walker says working is what he does best. He and Sims are ready to show what they can do. They’re strangers to Raiders fans now, but hope to make names for themselves in Oakland.
“Hopefully my play will speak for itself and everybody will recognize me,” said Walker.