Raiders making big changes on defense

Things change quickly over the football weeks.

The Raiders were a supposed defensive force in July. Now they’re a team mulling who will call the plays, who will start in the secondary, and a team who might be a candidate to trade for a middle linebacker.

Jack Del Rio wasn’t saying, one day after a tough 35-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, that he was going to take over many of the gameday defensive coordinator duties. But he sure didn’t close the door.

Del Rio highlighted some major problems with relatively simple solutions: plays not getting in quick enough, the defense not getting in the right position quick enough, and added that some changes are going to be made on the team’s depth chart.

Rookie safety Karl Joseph will take over for Keith McGill. Linebacker Cory James will start in place of Ben Heeney. And the Raiders won’t have much time to evaluate after that, they’ll need to either stand pat or offer up some trade ideas.

An even more drastic scenario

There are two teams in the league, who after only two weeks, can safely presume they will not have even the slightest chance to play in late January: Buffalo and Cleveland.

Buffalo is 0-2, already dysfunctional under Rex and Rob Ryan, and will have to win about 10 straight to remain in contention. That’s not happening.

Cleveland is in a similar position, and really, probably would be better having a high draft pick in a group with some pretty talented prospects.

The Chicago Bears, a squad with a good bit of talent, could be candidates at some point. Maybe they’re already there — an 0-2 record coupled with a duel against Minnesota (2-0), Green Bay (1-1) and a surprisingly efficient Detroit team (1-1) means that it’s not just an uphill batter, it’s going to be like scaling Mount Everest.

The Bills have Preston Brown, a young inside linebacker that hasn’t met his potential in the league. Cleveland waived their most likely trade candidate at linebacker Tuesday, Scooby Wright III, who was productive in college but drafted in the seventh round and now up for grabs.

Chicago has two of the more likely candidates: Danny Trevathan and Christian Jones.

Trevathan is about the biggest upgrade the Raiders could make, and would cost a lot. They could certainly offer Mychal Rivera, who’s been inactive for both regular season games, but might be forced to offer a second rounder or better. That would call for a whole lot of pause.

Christian Jones is backing up Trevathan, and given their depth on the inside, won’t get a chance to start unless someone gets hurt. He’s a more logical candidate.

Jones is 6-foot-3, was very productive at Florida State before going undrafted in 2014. Teams almost never disclose why a player slid from a potential second rounder to not having their name called, but it’s often the case of poor medical evaluations or teams feeling a guy has a poor mental makeup.

One of the largest hurdles, and why trades rarely happen in the NFL relative to other sports, is what a player must do and learn before he can ever be utilized.

Any roster addition would need to study the playbook — which current Raiders have described as being as big as a bible — as well as learn what the coaches want, where the exact zones and positions are in the defense, and also the terminology.

It’s easier for some positions, but the middle linebacker must know everything. Pass rushers mostly just get after the quarterback. Corners play man or zone, and that’s most of it.

The Mike, though, has to know his job as well as the assignments of the other 10 men. That’s why Trevathan makes the most sense.

Del Rio was the defensive coordinator in Denver when Trevathan came aboard, and the two can make things work better than any other inside backer in football today.

The Bears would love to keep Trevathan, and have him under contract until 2020. And the Raiders could draft one of the eligible Mike linebackers coming out of the Big 10 next April, which could represent an even better value.

This is the overall dilemma: if the Raiders feel they can win now, they should make a deal for someone who will make a difference; but even if they can win now, would it be worth settling?

My take is simple: roll with the guys you have, and hope for the best. There are a few really promising players to be drafted next year, highlighted by running back Christian McCaffrey and linebackers Jabrill Peppers and Raekwon McMillan.

Style points to McMillan’s parents for their devotion to the Wu. I think.

Reggie McKenzie probably feels the same way. He’s not one to push the red button, and there’s too many questions to be sure the Raiders are going to contend. Especially when it’s a replacement at the heart of their defense.

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 Raiders football.