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Raiders counting on new-look defensive line

The imprint of new Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is evident in just about everything the club has done this offseason. And that influence will be felt during the NFL draft as general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden look to improve a defense that surrendered the third-most points in the league last season.

“What’s cool about Gus is he’s got a way about him that’s inclusive,” Mayock said. “And by that I mean, whether it’s the players, the fellow coaches, the scouts, he’s all-in. He’s trying to help you make your job better.”

It works both ways. The Raiders created defensive depth and versatility at certain positions with new additions while also moving on from veterans Maurice Hurst and Arden Key.

The result is a potentially deeper, more talented group better suited to deliver the sort of defensive line play that Bradley’s 4-3 Cover-3 scheme requires.

For now, the improvements are on paper only. But by adding defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Dickerson, defensive tackles Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson and Darius Philon, and retaining promising defensive linemen David Irving and Johnathan Hankins, the Raiders hope the elevated talent mixed in with the element of competition has the necessary effect.

“We’ve got, I believe, more talent in there than we’ve had before,” Mayock said. “Now we just got to convert it to production.”

That requires some of the additions either maintaining established levels of play or, in the case of Thomas, finally tapping into his obvious potential. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft, Thomas did not live up to expectations in his first four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, who didn’t pick up his fifth-year option.

In the case of Philon, it means regaining form after missing the last two seasons dealing with a legal issue.

Irving is in a similar position after missing most of the last two seasons while serving an NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Raiders signed Irving in October after he was reinstated, and while he appeared in just two games, he showed enough for the Raiders to re-sign him to a one-year deal.

“Now, we obviously need a couple guys to hit,” Mayock said. “Solomon Thomas is a former first-round pick, still young. We’re excited about him. We’re excited about each of those guys for different reasons.”

Ngakoue was the headline free agent signing and adds an established level of pass rush. He joins Cle Ferrell, Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib in a four-man rotation that the Raiders hope can create more pass rush but also a deep rotation for a 17-game regular season.

“Ngakoue was a big deal for us, and he gives us a little bit of a different presence than we’ve had before,” Mayock said. “With Maxx coming back healthy, Cle had one of his best games against the Jets and then he got hurt. We need to get these guys healthy and keep them healthy. … So it’s depth, it’s staying healthy, and hopefully this draft is going to help us get there.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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