In 2014, the Raiders defense wasn’t exactly stout against the run.
Oakland ranked 22nd in the NFL in rushing defense, giving up 4.0 yards per attempt. The Raiders also gave up 17 touchdowns on the ground, tied for the third-worst total in the league.
Right from the start – a Game 1 loss to the Jets, in which New York ran for 212 yards and averaged 6.2 per carry – Oakland gave up yards in big chunks.
But that may change in 2015.
So far in training camp at Napa, Oakland’s big-bodied defensive tackles have been moving and playing well in scrimmages and drills against the offensive line, and promise to provide a stubborn foundation at the heart of the defensive front.
Veteran free agent Dan Williams (6-foot-2, 330 pounds) and second-year man Justin Ellis (6-foot-2, 335) may prove to be immovable objects. If they can get good push against the center of opposing offensive lines – to make tackles or allow linebackers and safeties to make plays – the whole personality of the Raiders defense in 2015 may be much different.
“We call them ‘meat and potatoes,’ ” Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack told reporters after one recent practice. “They eat up the middle and send that running back to the high side and create the push-back we need in the middle to make it bounce. It’s going to be fun.”
New defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has said that he believes his unit will be much better, mixing the remaining talent from 2014 with additions such as Williams. He wants them to play “fast, mean, tough.”
As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted, Williams and Ellis form the NFL’s largest tandem of defensive tackles, at 665 total pounds. The last pair that size, he reported, was the Tony Siragusa-Sam Adams tandem from the Baltimore Ravens back in 2000.
Williams, who often has lined up over the center in his previous seasons with Arizona, and Ellis are quick and athletic as well as huge. Oakland quarterback Derek Carr , who gets an up-close look at them in drills, is happy to have them on his team.
“Obviously those guys have so much strength, but when you see them make that fast movement, how do you get a body that big to move that quick?” Carr told McDonald. “It’s crazy.”