General manager Reggie McKenzie fell short of completing a face transplant, but his offseason decisions left the Oakland Raiders defense practically unrecognizable.
A unit that surrendered the fifth most points in the NFL last season will return with only three starters (Tyvon Branch, Lamarr Houston and Miles Burris). McKenzie purged the roster of expensive underachievers and added veterans for nickels on the dollar who aim to parlay next season into a bigger contract.
With little cap space Mckenzie was forced to be thrifty, and few resources were reserved to sign reliable depth. The next men up on the front four are a serious concern in particular, since overworking the 2012 starting four led to atrocious trench play (31st in sacks produced).
Currently named at the defensive tackles are Pat Sims and Vance Walker, two steady rotation pieces who are stout against the run. The projected starter at right end is Jason Hunter, who is coming off a severe triceps injury and has recorded 11 sacks since entering the league in 2006. Houston is no Michael Strahan (yet), so who on the Raiders will provide the necessary pressure?
Unless late round picks Stacy McGee and David Bass pan out, the answer is probably not on the roster. Free agents Dwight Freeney and John Abraham remain looking for work, but their asking price is too much for McKenzie’s frugal operation.
How about that old Kyle Vanden Bosch?
The 34-year-old is nearing the end of an injury-prone NFL career, but the 2007 All Pro believes he can still contribute, and claims to be feeling great.
“I know that at this point in the offseason, I’m the healthiest I’ve been in a couple years,” Vanden Bosch said in an interview with Detroitlions.com. “If I get another opportunity, I’m (going to) make the most of it.”
Vanden Bosch (who blew out both knees in his first three years in the NFL as an Arizona Cardinal) would have to prove to potential employers he can withstand the rigors of a full season, so returning to a regular training schedule will certainly help.
While the veteran will never rediscover the level of play he displayed with the Tennessee Titans, he remains a satisfactory run stopper and can reach the backfield maneuvering inside or out. The Raiders simply need a pulse from their ends, so in theory Vanden Bosch would see a couple dozen snaps and pin his ears back when Houston shifts to the interior for passing downs.
And it goes unnoticed that Vanden Bosch is a class act. The defender will come cheap after collecting two hefty salaries earlier in his career, and he is a respected leader. The three-time Pro Bowler doesn’t mind suiting up for division dwellers, which only helps Oakland’s case.
If the Raiders want a positive influence and a fading star with something to prove, Vanden Bosch is their man. For a million bucks and change, McKenzie can cheerfully cap off his defensive overhaul.