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Training camp notebook: 2015 Raiders defense

It took a few days, but after players got some time acclimating to the conditions in Napa, they padded up.

The first two days of padded practice are light, and carry little to no weight. The following practices, though, do.

Here are a couple of key defensive takeaways from these more important parts of camp:

Overblown concerns

The Raiders were picked on this offseason for a lot less than they have been in a long time. Still, there was concern from national media outlets about their pass rush.

Oakland’s pass rush should be fine, and could be dominant. The fact that they recorded record lows getting after the quarterback in 2014 was less about personnel and more that teams were running the ball against them and not throwing.

TRAINING CAMP UPDATE 2015 Raiders offense.

Either a team would have their way with the Raiders defensive front and run, or they would develop a large lead that didn’t require throwing the ball.

Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack, who will be Oakland’s starters on the edge, combined for a Pro Football Focus grade of 61.8 overall last season.

For contrast, that’s better than Denver’s combo of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, and a little shy of the mark set by the Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson (73.6).

Oakland should have a tremendous pass rush.

Meat and potatoes

The Raiders’ addition of defensive tackle Dan Williams is a terrific one. He’s arguably the best run-stopping lineman in football — with competition from Mack — and has shown at camp he truly has pass rush ability.

Mixed with Justin Ellis, the tandem received some rave reviews from the longest-standing defensive veteran in the NFL, Charles Woodson:

“I love it. It kind of reminds me of Grady Jackson when Grady was here. You put him in the middle. We had a guy like Darrell Russell, who was an unbelievable player. You could put him in the middle. Those guys, when they wanted to go, man, it was special.”

Running the football won’t be easy on these Raiders, especially with Mack and Tuck on the outside. Mack actually provided some of the best run-stopping ability at any position in 2014, though part of that is skewed since he received limited help.

Mack also approves of the largest starter interior defensive line in the league:

“We call them ‘meat and potatoes.’ They eat up that middle and they send that running back to the high side and create that gap and create that push-back that we need in the middle to make it bounce. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be fun, and we like to play football like that.”

The Raiders have a squad up front, and in the linebacking group for sure.

Questions remain in the secondary

The Raiders can be good in their defensive backfield, but it’s nothing worth betting on at this time.

The group has the least starting experience in the NFL and is looking rusty at camp. Some rust is to be expected — playing corner is the toughest job in football, hands down. One misstep, and you’re toast.

It’s too early to get low on the corners, no question about it. They, D.J. Hayden, T.J. Carrie and Keith McGill, all possess the talent, speed and agility to be very good.

And remember, the Raiders made the Seahawks secondary look silly during Week 4 of the 2014 preseason. Then Seattle went to the Super Bowl, nearly won it again, and the Raiders picked fourth overall in April.

But until proven otherwise, there are questions there. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. thinks they’ll be alright. So does head coach Jack Del Rio, as does Charles Woodson.

All of them are straight shooters, even when it’s not the most uplifting comments. So we’ll have to wait and see.

Sneaking up and looking like a potential starter in the future is seventh round draft pick Jonathan Dowling, entering his second year has helped to bury Brandian Ross and Larry Asante on the depth chart.

Dowling, a tremendous talent who NFL Network analyst and former NFL executive Gil Brandt absolutely loved, commenting that the Raiders should be busted for stealing, should be able to snatch the key backup role and log major minutes in the event of an injury to Woodson or Nate Allen, both unquestioned starters.

The Raiders will have Allen starting at Free Safety and Woodson starting at strong safety this season, Allen being a true free safety will allow Woodson to do what he’s done a lot of over the last two seasons, blitz and cover the intermediate middle.

But if Oakland’s pass rush holds, and Norton does some of the same things that Dan Quinn did as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, both could play back quite a bit. Which would alleviate some of the pressure on the young corners.

Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.

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