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NFL preview 2019: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals

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NFL preview 2019: How Raiders' defense stacks up against AFC West rivals

If the Raiders plan to improve on their dismal 4-12 season a year ago, the defense will have to be world's better in 2019.

Much has been made about Oakland's non-existent pass rush in 2018, when the Raiders ranked last in the NFL after managing only 13 sacks -- 17 fewer than the next closest team.

The Raiders tried to rectify some of their issues in the offseason by drafting star Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Silver and Black also drafted safety Johnathan Abram, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and edge rusher Maxx Crosby. They also signed defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall. 

[RELATED: How Raiders' offense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Oakland's defense likely will be improved from a season ago. But by just how much remains to be seen.

The AFC West, meanwhile, has no shortage of explosive offenses, so the division very well could come down to which defenses are able to get off the field when it matters most. As such, let's take a look at home the Raiders' defense stacks up against the rest of the AFC West.

Raiders vs. Chiefs

Defensive line: The Chiefs made some changes in the offseason, bringing in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo while cutting Justin Houston and trading edge rusher Dee Ford to the 49ers. They also acquired Frank Clark from the Seattle Seahawks.

KC is transitioning from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 and as such could have some growing pains. Only Clark and nose tackle Chris Jones are locks to make the roster in camp.

The Raider's defensive line has issues of its own, but another year for Maurice Hurst, PJ Hall and Arden Key should buoy Oakland's unit and Ferrell hopefully will provide instant impact off the edge. Don't sleep on Eddie Vanderdoes who returns after missing the entire 2018 season while recovering from a torn ACL. Edge: Raiders

Linebackers: Kansas City got a steal when they acquired Darron Lee from the New York Jets for a sixth-round draft pick. Lee and Anthony Hitchens are two solid backers, but the drop off after those two is severe. Unless Reggie Ragland can rediscover the promise he showed in 2017, this unit could be in trouble.

As for the linebacking corps in Oakland, Paul Guenther's unit is hoping veterans Burfict and Marshall can bring some stability and leadership to a group that struggled mightily last year. If Tahir Whitehead and Marquel Lee can continue their improvement from the end of last season, Guenther might have the makings of a real defense on his hands. Edge: Raiders

Secondary: The Chiefs' secondary will need to communicate better in order to improve on what was a relatively dismal performance a season ago. Eric Berry is gone. Tyrann Mathieu is in. Kendall Fuller was solid in his first season in Kansas City but the rest of the secondary struggled, giving up explosive play after explosive play.

Mathieu is a good player, but unless Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward take a step forward, the Chiefs' secondary will struggle again.

Oakland's secondary added Joyner and Abram which should, in theory, make them better. If Gareon Conley can stay healthy and Mullen, Daryl Worley or Nevin Lawson can cement themselves as a solid corner on the other side, Oakland's secondary has the potential to be good. Edge. Raiders

Overall: Advantage Raiders

Raiders vs. Chargers

Defensive line: Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and now Jerry Tillery. The Bolts will have a fearsome frontline yet again. Edge: Chargers

Linebackers: The Chargers' linebacking corps was hit hard with injuries a season ago. The health of Denzel Perryman, Kyzir White and Jatavis Brown is paramount. If the Bolts' backers are healthy this is a no-brainer. Edge: Chargers

Secondary: I like Abram and Mullen. Conley has a ton of potential. The Chargers have Desmond King, Casey Hayward, Adrian Phillips, Derwin James and Nasir Adderley. Wow. Edge: Chargers

Overall: Advantage Chargers

[RELATED: How Raiders' offense stacks up against AFC West rivals]

Raiders vs. Broncos

Defensive line: For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going to include Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in this category as well even though they technically play outside linebacker in Denver's 3-4 scheme. Chubb and Miller are paid to get after the passer. So is Derek Wolfe.

Oh, and the Broncos drafted Dre'Mont Jones. Have fun, opposing offensive lines. Edge: Broncos

Linebackers: If you want to include Miller and Chubb in this group, that's fine. They'll be the starting outside linebackers. Both Miller and Chubb should feast in new head coach Vic Fangio's defense. (Remember what he did with Khalil Mack?) Todd Davis and Josey Jewell will start inside and have their warts.

Rookie Justin Hollins could slide inside to help in coverage at some point. Edge: Broncos

Secondary: Kareem Jackson is in to stabilize the safety group. Chris Harris still is the best slot cover man in the game. No need to go any further. Edge: Broncos

Overall: Advantage Broncos

Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line

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Johnathan Hankins loves being leader to young Raiders' defensive line

ALAMEDA -- Johnathan Hankins isn’t even 28 years old yet feels like an old man working on the Raiders defensive front. The starting line features two rookies off the edge and a second-year man working next to him inside.

He is an elder statesman in that crew, with plenty of experience in his seventh year out of Ohio State. Hankins is having a blast with a young, developing crew, knowing he must anchor the defensive line and help those around him make plays.

“I’m just trying to do my best to lead the guys,” Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “I’ve been here longer than most of the guys on this unit, and I try to show them what it takes to be a professional and pass along all the information I learned from the veterans I worked with way back when.”

Hankins is paying it forward now with words and action. His role at defensive tackle often helps create opportunities for others pushing the pocket back and shutting down the opposition’s interior run game.

The Raiders are better in that area thanks in large part to Hankins’ improvement within the system and are certainly thankful last year’s in-season signing has become a permanent fixture upfront.

Hankins was in a weird spot before joining the Raiders last year, cut just a year into a big three-year contract with Indianapolis because the Colts changed defensive schemes.

He found a proper fit in Oakland and was happy to re-up with them this offseason.

“There was a lot going on after I got released by the Colts, and I was trying to find a place that fits well with me and finding an organization that wanted me,” Hankins said. “That’s what it boiled to, and it has really worked out with the Raiders.”

[RELATED: Mullen's confidence grows as he develops on the job]

Hankins considers it destiny that he’s Raiders, the same team name he had as a 6-year old running back and kicker growing up in Detroit and nearby Dearborn, Mich. That’s where he grew (quite literally) into the dominant defensive force that earned an Ohio State scholarship and a second-round NFL draft slot.

“I’m just enjoying this ride,” Hankins said. “I’m trying to be at my best and show everyone watching that I’m still one of the best defensive tackles in this league. The goal is to get to 12 years, and I think I’m on my way.”

Raiders injury report: Hunter Renfrow could return later this season

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Raiders injury report: Hunter Renfrow could return later this season

ALAMEDA – Hunter Renfrow injured his ribs and punctured his lung during a Week 12 loss to the New York Jets, a scary situation that put the rest of his season in some jeopardy.

The Raiders couldn’t say for sure if he’d finish out his rookie season, where he made steady progress and ranked high among quarterback Derek Carr’s most reliable targets.

He didn’t play last week against Kansas City and won’t play Sunday against Tennessee at Oakland Coliseum, but could well come back down the stretch.

“We’re hopeful that he could return for the last game or two,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “We’re going to keep him on the active roster. We’ll do without him for another game or two, and we’re hoping to get him back for the Chargers game [in Week 16]. That’s on our wish list, our hope list right now for Hunter. We miss him.”

Renfrow wasn’t active on Wednesday, according to a practice estimation from the team. The Silver and Black conducted a walk-through session off-site, on a basketball court in Alameda to avoid inclement weather. The focus is teaching and the mental side of the game.

“We have made some adjustments to our roster, so we have gone inside to try to multiply our reps for a lot of people that we have to get ready to play,” Gruden said. “There are pros and cons to everything. I like to get a lot of reps in on Wednesday to teach the game plan and make sure they’re sound in their assignments. It’s not at the same speed, but it’s an important part of learning, especially the changes we have had at several positions.

“I think it has been beneficial. We’ll come out and run fast Thursday and Friday and get ready for the Titans.”

Running back Josh Jacobs was considered out on the team’s practice estimation with a shoulder injury. Right guard Trent Brown was considered a non-participant with a pectoral injury. He has been dealing with knee and ankle injuries in recent weeks.

[RELATED: Review-Journal: Should Raiders move on from Derek Carr?]

Raiders practice report

WEDNESDAY
Did not practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)

Limited practice
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)

NOTE: The Raiders conducted a walk-through practice on Wednesday. Therefore, the participation report is an estimation.