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Raiders already resurgent rebuilt defensive line still sees ‘meat on the bone’

This offseason it started to become a bit of a running joke just how many defensive tackles the Raiders had added. They added Solomon Thomas, Darius Philon, Quinton Jefferson, Matt Dickerson, and Gerald McCoy, making for a crowded three-tech position.

The only interior defensive lineman returning being nose tackle Johnathan Hankins. Otherwise it was a completely overhauled interior defensive line battling for playing time.

The question became who, if any, would rise to the occasion and distinguish themselves on the interior. Because they couldn’t exactly keep all of them…could they? It seemed like the Raiders were taking flyers on a bunch of guys in the hopes of finding at least one worthy of being the starter.

Come the season opener, that turned out to be a trick question as they kept four of their new defensive tackles. They would lose Gerald McCoy to a leg injury that game, leaving still three defensive tackles in rotation.

“It keeps you fresh. We got a good rotation,” said Quinton Jefferson. “I played in a defense where we had to play like 80% of the snaps…in the fourth quarter you get worn down. And you can look at the 4th quarter last game and even overtime, you had guys going, going, going to the wall. And it just helps having a good rotation, so I’m glad. This is a great group I’m playing with. Guys come in and there’s no drop off. And it’s exciting.”

Also helping has been the addition of Yannick Ngakoue on the outside, joining incumbent pass rushers Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib. the Raiders have found the formula for dialing up consistent pressure.

“We know it takes all of us to eat,” Jefferson explained how this defensive line works. “You can’t just take one guy to hunt, so we’re just all making sure we’re all on the same page, working at levels, me and Solly, Phi or whoever is in there, making sure we’re getting that push, and the edges aren’t rushing behind the quarterback. It all seems to still be coming together. We left a lot of meat on the bone last week, but it’s still coming together good.”

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley agreed with Jefferson that there’s room for improvement, calling this defensive line a “work in progress” and adding that the defensive line has some mistakes still to clean up and “that’s always an area of improvement for us.”

It’s quite a thing for the players and coaches to still not think they’ve reached the levels at which they’re capable. Especially considering just how good they’ve been over these first three weeks. A group that was among many question marks on this team has shown themselves to be probably the strongest group on this defense.

They haven’t gotten to really feast either. All three of the quarterbacks they’ve played — Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jacoby Brissett — are not easily sacked. And yet they have seven sacks as a team and Maxx Crosby leads the entire NFL in QB hits.

This week it won’t get easier still with Justin Herbert coming up. Jefferson knows the task ahead of them. And it’s a ‘here we go again’ situation as much as anything.

“He’s a great athlete,” Jefferson said of Herbert. “He’s what 6-6 and huge, can make all the throws, likes to scramble out the pocket in those B-gaps. We have to be conscious. You can’t let that guy, because once he gets out and receivers start breaking off, going downfield, it’s big plays. So, it’s on us. We have to rush aggressive, but it’s still rush smart, because you can’t just let him run around there.”

This defensive line has gotten after the QB thus far. Which, in its own way, has helped this group prepare for the likes of Herbert. They certainly understand it will take the entire rotation along the defensive line to keep everyone fresh and coming after the QB.

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