The Oakland Raiders' defensive line was supposed to be one of their strong suits last season. However, injuries plagued the group as starter Matt Shaughnessy missed a large portion of the season, and Trevor Scott, Richard Seymour and Lamarr Houston all missed time or played through injury. While the Raiders made one addition to their defensive line in free agency, and once through the draft, much of the improvement along the defensive line in 2012 will come from simply being healthy.
There are really no battles for a starting position along the defensive line this season. If everyone stays healthy, the undoubted starters will be Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy at the defensive end positions and Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly starting at defensive tackle (this would be for a 4-3 front, all we know about a 3-4 front is that Tommy Kelly would likely be playing nost tackle).
Including the four unquestioned starters, the Raiders have 15 defensive lineman currently on the roster. Clearly not all of these guys will make the team:
As I noted before, the four starters for next season are clear, assuming there are no injuries to any of them that is. Thus, with Shaughnessy, Houston, Kelly and Seymour being the unquestioned starters, let's take a look at the unquestioned back ups who will be sure to make the team. The first guy that must be talked about is Desmond Bryant. He came to the Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of Harvard. Bryant has been one of the Raiders best back ups at any position. He is versatile enough to play at defensive end or defensive tackle, has great size, and has a motor that never stops running. With Seymour likely getting close to retirement, do not be surprised to see Bryant as a starter for the Raiders in the near future. The only other player that is all but guaranteed a spot on the roster is Dave Tollefson, the free agent defensive end the Raiders signed away from the New York Giants this off season. Tollefson is a very valuable back up who is a talented pass rusher.
Jack Crawford, Christo Bilukidi, Dominique Hamilton, Wayne Dorsey will all be rookies this season. Jack Crawford was taken in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL draft, Christo Bilukidi was taken in the 6th round, and the rest were acquired as undrafted free agents. Jack Crawford is a guy that is also very likely to make the team this season. He is unpolished and needs some time to develop, but could contribute right away on special teams and possibly even get on the field on passing downs as a back up pass rusher. Bilukidi is a developmental defensive tackle. Many were surprised to see him taken in the 6th round, so Raiders' general manager Reggie McKenzie must have seen something he liked if he was willing to spend a draft pick on a guy most projected as an undrafted free agent. He needs a lot of work, so in all likelihood, he will wind up on the Raiders practice squad to start the season. The remaining undrafted free agents will all have a difficult time making the team this season. The Raiders have starters and backups who are already entrenched, and four experienced practice squad guys to compete with.
Those additional practice squad guys are Mason Brodine, Jamie Cumbie, Travis Ivey and Carl Ihenacho. Both Cumbie and Brodine have been on the Raiders practice squad, and both have made it onto the game day roster at times. While neither is close to being a guarantee to make the roster, they have both been showing improvement and will be strong candidates for the practice squad and possibly the regular season roster as back ups. Meanwhile, Ivey and Ihenacho are both likely just camp bodies.