Raiders.com Mailbag: Defensive Improvement, Will Karl Joseph Start?

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Vincent M:With Clive Walford developing into a legitimate red zone threat, do you see Carr getting him the ball more on passing downs?

EP:Through his first season and two games as a Raider, Walford certainly has developed into a threat in the passing game, especially in the red zone where things get a little tighter and more pressure-filled for the quarterback. When the team selected him in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, they expected him to be a prototypical dual-threat tight end who can both block, and get out wide as a receiving option, and while the former Miami Hurricane is far from a finished product, he's shown to be apt in both those areas. In the first two games of the season, the Raiders have activated just two tight ends on game day, Walford and Lee Smith, and although he caught four passes last week, Smith is mostly a blocking tight end. Derek Carr consistently says that he's going to get all the team's playmakers involved, and going forward, I expect to see Walford in that mix.

Allen R:Do you think it's becoming a trend that Khalil Mack starts off seasons slow?

EP:Let's all take a giant step away from the panic button as far as the production of No. 52 goes. Last season Mack didn't secure a sack until Week 3, and he finished the season with 15 in all, and had a legitimate argument to be the Defensive Player of the Year. Earlier this week David Amerson said that the secondary is still getting used to the new players they've inserted into the fold, and I think the same could be said for Mack and the defensive line. Not only is the edge rusher getting used to playing with new addition Bruce Irvin, but Mario Edwards Jr. is currently on the shelf recovering from injury. Has Khalil's productivity through the first two games been up to where he'd like it to be? Probably not, but there's no reason to think the All-Pro defensive end won't make the necessary adjustments to once again be a force along the defensive line. He has too much talent not to.

Doran J:What do you think needs to improve on the defense? What do you think needs to improve on the offense?

EP:Defensively, I think all 11 players on the field need to just be sound and secure in their responsibilities, and be aware of exactly what their job is on each particular play. In the NFL, a bad angle here, or a miscommunication there can make a routine three-yard run end up as six points for the opposition. In talking with several members of the defense this week, they've said that the mistakes they've made thus far are correctable, and that a lot of the damage the opposing teams have caused is self-inflicted as a result of their own mistakes. As far as the offense goes, I think the one thing you'd like to see an improvement on would be starting fast. If you look at the stats, the offense is ranked at or near the top in every metric, so the production is no doubt there, but coming out of the gate quick, and putting points up in a hurry would be a welcome sight going forward.

Terri D:Why does the defense lack cohesion and energy? Who has taken over to fill the leadership void left by Charles Woodson?

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EP: **First off, I wouldn't necessarily say that the defense lacks energy. Yes, they've had a rough go of it the past two weeks, but I don't think any of that is effort based. There are a lot of new players in the mix this season and it looks like it's just taking a while for the unit to gel. Now, does the group need to come together, and correct some of the issues that have hamstrung them? Certainly, but I don't think it's fair to say they've lacked energy or been lethargic. In regards to leadership, replacing a first ballot Hall of Famer in Charles Woodson is no easy task, but I don't think any one player is being asked to carry the mantle alone. Bruce Irvin joined the Silver and Black this offseason after spending the first five seasons of his career in Seattle, and with a Super Bowl championship to his name, he certainly knows what it takes to win. The other member of the Slash Brothers, Khalil Mack, has also taken more of a leadership role defensively, and he knows that this season, without Woodson and Justin Tuck, much more will be expected from him in that regard.

Peter F:Who on the team isn't getting enough attention in your eyes, and who do you expect to surprise us against the Titans?

EP:I said it last week, and I'll say it again – don't sleep on DeAndré Washington. Through two games, the rookie running back has 12 rushes for 60 yards, and while he may have only carried the ball a dozen times, he's shown to be effective with the ball in his hands. With the trio of running backs the team is currently running with, it's unrealistic to think that any one player will touch the ball 25 or 30 times a game, but Washington doesn't necessarily need to be running the ball to be an offensive threat. In addition to his skill running the football, he's also shown that he can be a receiving threat – both out wide and operating from the backfield – and I think as the season goes on, we'll see that part of his game really blossom.

Keenan P:Are we done seeing Taiwan Jones get carries, and will Marcel Reece's return help boost the offense soon?

EP:Never say never, but with the aforementioned three-headed monster at running back, combined with fullback Jamize Olawale, I don't think we'll be seeing too much of Taiwan Jones as a ball carrier in the near future. Jones boasts elite speed, and has handled a majority of the team's kickoff duties, as well as being a stalwart on the special teams coverage units. Reece will be eligible to return to practice next week, and I'm actually pretty interested to see how the team best utilizes his talents. For the past seven years, Reece has shown he can be multiple in his skills, whether it's blocking, running the football, or lining up out wide as a receiving threat. You can never have enough playmakers on the offensive side of the football, so I'm looking forward to seeing what offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and his staff do in regards to the Pro Bowl fullback.

Mal S:Will Karl Joseph start?

EP:Mal, that seems have to have been the question of the week, but as of now, we just don't know. What we do know is that Joseph is set to receive his first extended defensive action Sunday in Nashville, but whether he starts, or rotates in at some point remains to be seen. Head Coach Jack Del Rio was asked this very question during his Friday press conference, and wouldn't give an answer, and realistically, there's no reason for him to share that information right now. The Titans know that Joseph will be involved heavily in the defense, but there's no point in letting them know just how much ahead of time. The Titans, just like us, will have to wait until Sunday to see if the rookie gets his first NFL start. Kickoff at Nissan Stadium is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. PT.

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