Sixth in a series analyzing Raiders position groups with players scheduled to report to training camp Tuesday:
Projected starters: DE Greg Ellis, DT Gerard Warren, DT Tommy Kelly, DE Jay Richardson. Backups: DE Derrick Burgess, DE Trevor Scott, DT Terdell Sands, DT Ryan Boschetti, DT William Joseph, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DE Greyson Gunheim, DE Derrick Gray, DE-DT Desmond Bryant.
When Greg Ellis was cut by Dallas and was inserted immediately into the Raiders starting lineup, it was either to send a message or an acknowledgment that a 35-year-old veteran headed toward the downside of his career was immediately superior to what was already on hand. Probably a little of both. The issue across the board among the returning players has been one of consistency in terms of a pass rush, and in getting pushed around against the run. Of the newcomers, Ellis’ found his snaps were limited against run-heavy teams such as the New York Giants _ not a good omen. Boschetti barely played for Washington, although Tom Cable considers him an excellent run defenders. The Raiders are giving Kelly a mulligan based on his knee surgery (although it makes you wonder about the wisdom of sinking $18.125 million guaranteed into a player who needs a mulligan). It’s now or never for Sands, who dropped some weight in hopes of achieving some of the promise he had after a strong 2006 season. Scott had five sacks and appears to be gradually building himself into an end who can do more than just rush the passer. The hope with Burgess is that he explodes in a salary drive year. Gunheim’s season-ending performance in Tampa Bay should give him a chance to stick.
The key battle: Shaughnessy vs. Richardson. A defensive end who can hold his edge, stand his ground against the run and allow a swift linebacking crew to come in and clean up would be huge. Richardson looks the part, but hasn’t produced. The Raiders would love to see Shaughnessy be that player.
What I think: Forget about starting Burgess. He rarely practices anyway. Just put him on the field for 12 to 15 plays in pass rush situations, turn him loose, and hope he’s got enough left on limited snaps for eight to 10 sacks in a salary drive year. Give the bulk of the work to Ellis, Scott and Shaughnessy. Having done little to shore up the middle other than sign Boschetti, the Raiders are gambling that Kelly, Sands and Warren will all be better and more consistent players with a new coordinator in John Marshall and a new line coach in Dwaine Board.
What could go wrong: Burgess can’t stay healthy, Kelly joins Javon Walker, Gibril Wilson and DeAngelo Hall as a flop in the spending spree of 2008 and Ellis begins to show his age.