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Raiders Offseason Checklist: Secondary Improves, Still Looking For Depth


The Oakland Raiders – while they didn't make the postseason – were a vastly improved team in 2015.

Derek Carr established himself as the team's franchise quarterback, and while the team took some noticeable steps forward in Head Coach Jack Del Rio's first season at the helm, there were still areas of the roster that needed to be addressed heading into the offseason.

General Manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff have been busy since the season ended, accumulating talent for the Silver and Black across the board, so with the Offseason Program scheduled to begin April 18, let's see what boxes the Silver and Black have checked off, and what areas they still need to address heading into next season.

1.  Address depth in the secondary

Heading into the offseason, Coach Del Rio made it crystal clear – the team needed to, and would, address the depth of the secondary.

The secondary as a whole struggled mightily at times in 2015, and addressing those shortcomings was priority No. 1 heading into the offseason.

Enter Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson.

With the pair now in Silver and Black, the Raiders' secondary receives a needed upgrade, and Coach Del Rio gets the depth that he coveted last year.

The team's secondary is far from a finished product, but adding both Smith and Nelson is a good place to start.

2. Secure a left tackle

Heading into free agency, one of the biggest questions the Raiders had was the future of starting left tackle Donald Penn.

After two quality seasons in the Bay Area, Penn became an unrestricted free agent when the new league year began, meaning he was eligible to sign with any team.

The veteran tackle was candid about his desire to return to the team he grew up rooting for, and on March 17, he got his wish, re-signing with the Raiders.

Not only does Penn's return provide continued continuity along the offensive line, but it also frees up newly-signed lineman Kelechi Osemele to play his natural position of guard.

3. Build a stable of running backs

The NFL is a passing league these days, but even so, dominance in the run game is important for sustained success.

Running back Latavius Murray surely gave the Silver and Black some consistency on the ground in 2015 – becoming the first Raider to rush for over 1,000 yards since 2010 – but behind the Pro Bowler there wasn't much depth to be found on the Raiders' roster.

Neither Roy Helu, Jr., nor Taiwan Jones materialized as a productive change-of-pace or third-down back behind Murray, and as of now, McKenzie hasn't added another player to the mix.

Derek Carr, the team's starting quarterback, was the team's second-leading rusher last season, and going forward that simply cannot be the case.

Look for McKenzie and his staff to add some competition at the running back position through either the Draft or the waning stages of free agency.

4. Get Khalil Mack some help

Khalil Mack was an absolute beast defensively last season – everyone all knows that.

Not only did he finish 2015 with 15 total sacks, earn a trip to Hawaii for his first Pro Bowl, but he also became the first player in NFL history to be named a First-Team All-Pro at two positions in the same season.

However, as dominant as Mack was, he didn't enjoy the benefit of a complementary pass rusher all season.

Yes, Justin Tuck, Aldon Smith, and Mario Edwards Jr. all provided that complement at times, but none of those players could made it through the whole campaign.

With that in mind, Reggie McKenzie recognized the need for another pass rushing option and elected to sign free agent linebacker Bruce Irvin in the early stages of free agency.

After being used in a variety of roles for the Seattle Seahawks, Irvin is looking forward to getting after the quarterback more in 2016, and he knows that he and Mack are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC West.

"He's [Mack] on his way to being one of the best rushers in the league," Irvin said of Mack. "[Denver Broncos OLBs] DeMarcus [Ware] and Von [Miller] laid the blueprint out in the Super Bowl – you've got to have rushers and tandem rushers at that. The AFC West, man, I look at it, it's a lot of tandem rushers. You've got [Kansas City Chiefs LBs Justin] Houston and Tamba [Hali]. You've got Ware and Von. You've got me and Mack."

5. Who will return kicks and punts?

Another area where the Silver and Black struggled to find consistency in 2015 was in the kick return game.

A multitude of players – including rookie Amari Cooper – got a shot to return kicks and punts, but no one was able to firmly grab ahold of the job until Jeremy Ross arrived in late-November.

Ross is gone, and while the team is hopeful that wide receiver Andre Debose can return from injury and handle the majority of the duties, the position still remains a question mark heading into 2016.

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