Will Raiders' Moves to Improve Secondary Pay Off? - NBC Bay Area

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Will Raiders' Moves to Improve Secondary Pay Off?

Team's No. 1 weakness on defense received an injection of young talent this offseason in bid to cut down on "explosive" plays by opponents

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    Cornerback Sean Smith (No. 21) struggled early in 2016 before playing solid football late in the year. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

    In 2016, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense.

    The Raiders were an up-and-down bunch that could look terrific in one quarter and leaky the next. Big plays, especially, hurt, said Del Rio at the end of the season.

    Said Del Rio: “There were too many explosive plays allowed this year, whether it be run or pass." So, one of the things Del Rio and general manager Reggie McKenzie did was hire former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano as a special defensive assistant for 2017. Pagano agreed with Del Rio, saying, “the number one thing we have to be able to do is you have to eliminate those explosive plays.”

    It was on pass defense that the Raiders were especially vulnerable, giving up an average of 7.9 yards per pass attempt, tied for second worst in the NFL.

    But, have the Raiders addressed their weakness in the secondary? As players prepare to report for training camp July 27, that’s still to be determined.

    This week, the analytic website Pro Football Focus ranked every NFL secondary and placed the Raiders in the middle of the pack, at No. 14.

    “The Raiders looked to inject some talented youth into this unit the past two offseasons as they invested three high draft picks into CB Gareon Conley and safeties Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu,” wrote PFF. “Joseph did not miss a single tackle on passing plays last season, while Conley and Melifonwu were both top-35 prospects on the PFF draft board. Also returning are veterans Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith who were both average grade-wise in 2016.”

    Joseph, who dealt with injuries as a rookie, should be a more solidifying force in the secondary in 2017. And Conley and Melifonwu conceivably could play significant roles as situational players or even starters as rookies. Plus, Smith could revert to his Pro Bowl form after a transitional year, moving to Oakland from Kansas City. The other element that could improve pass defense is if the front seven can apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks.

    At the end of 2016, Del Rio pointed to the secondary as the No. 1 area on defense that needed fixing.

    The Raiders, and their fans, will soon get to see if all the offseason moves helped.

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