A day after adding a new, do-it-all piece to the secondary, the Oakland Raiders attacked day two of the draft adding two new pieces to a needy front seven.
General manager Reggie Mckenzie added depth and versatility along the trenches that finished the season tied for 14th in sacks (38), and 13th in run defense.
Illinois defensive linemen Jihad Ward went with their second round pick, number 44 overall, and Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun in the third, 75 overall.
In Ward the Raiders get a versatile player who can line up as a three or five technique in the Raiders 3-4 base defense. At Illinois he would regularly switch from defensive tackle to end.
“I can play either side. Three technique, inside, pass rush or if they want me to set the edge, ill set the edge setting the edge. I’m just here to be a part of the team and make the team great.”
Along with versatility, a theme among the Raiders pics this year, Ward brings a work ethic and relentless energy to the field, never slowing down or showing negative body language as the games wore on.
Ward wont give up pursuit until the whistle, making tackles down the field after it looked like he was totally blocked out of the play. He’s not the most powerful lineman but is quick as an inside-out pass rusher.
The 6’6 295 pounder also flashed ability to get down line of scrimmage when a run play is called away from him and he is apt at setting the edge in the run game on runs to his side.
While he does have a tendency to get too high off the snap, a cardinal sin among interior linemen, he flashes quick and violent hands and uses them to disengage from blockers.
This past season Ward was double teamed a lot and it showed on the stat sheet. He only collected 1.5 sacks in 12 games despite starting in all of them.
“Of course I got double-teamed a lot but that’s just football. That’s what happens when you are in the three technique or in the five technique.”
In his game against Ohio State this season, a team busting at the seams with NFL talent, he was either double teamed when lined up on the right or matched up against first round offensive tackle Taylor Decker when he switched over to the left.
Ward was able to hold his own making a few nice plays against such a stacked team.
“They had a lot of good offensive linemen at Ohio State and its all about competing, I wanted to stand out there. If you want to be great, you have to go against the great. They are all good offensive linemen.”
With the addition of Calhoun, the Raiders pick up another pass rusher to get in the quarterback hunting mix along with Kahlil Mack, Bruce Irving, and also Aldon Smith, when he’s back from suspension for week 11.
The former Spartan blows past defenders with a great fist step, something that’s hard to coach, blasting out of his stance before the offensive linemen is able to get out of his.
The three-time All-American racked up 26.5 sacks his past three years good him second all-time at Michigan State. Because he has played in the Big Ten conference, Calhoun has faced a lot of quality teams and offensive lines.
Del Rio said:
“He’s a very productive young man, really understands how to rush the quarterback.”
While he is also versatile, Calhoun does have a tough time getting off the line with the same explosion when he is standing opposed to his hand in the ground.
Limiting him to a rush end in his first season would be the best way to get the most out of the rookie right out of the gates.
He would be best utilized as a weak side rusher opposite Mack, and could benefit from the added attention to the other quarterback bangers on the Raiders’ defense.
Del Rio said:
“He’s an end of the line kind of guy. Hell have versatility in that he can play SAM linebacker for us or the LEO position, which is a defensive end.”
Calhoun also believes he can do whatever is asked from the coaches when called upon.
“I think I can do multiple things. I haven’t been in a situation to do those things so people automatically assume I can’t do them. I think once I get to the facility, people will see that I’m versatile and can contribute to the team in multiple ways.”
In the Division Calhoun could struggle against the Broncos and Chiefs who have above average left and right tackles that can handle his bull rush and deal with his speed.
Calhoun should feast and have an easier time against the Chargers tackles who are extremely average and susceptible to both bull rushes, and quick get offs.
His first game against the New Orleans Saints will show how much Calhoun has absorbed in training camp.
Left tackle Terron Armstead has great feet and mobility but if lined up on the right he could prove to be too much to handle for right tackle Zach Strief, who struggles against quicker more athletic players.
In week three, Calhoun may find himself facing off former teammate Jack Conklin and the Tennessee Titans, who has a chance to supplant incumbent right tackle Byron Bell.
Overall head coach Jack Del Rio seemed pleased with the team’s haul liking the additions to the depth chart that he thought, were badly needed.
Del Rio said:
“You’ve looked at our depth chart right? We still have a lot of work to do on our football team. We feel good about fortifying the front. That’s what we were able to do today, add strength and depth and competition to the front.”