ALAMEDA — The Oakland Raiders defense was dealt a big blow back in the preseason when middle linebacker and defensive signal caller Nick Roach suffered a season-ending concussion.
That injury set the tone this season for the Raiders, who have had to piece together their defense on the fly because of a litany of injuries.
The Raiders (2-12) have nine defensive players on season-ending injured reserve, including the team's top two strong safeties, two linebackers, a starting defensive end and a starting cornerback.
Those absences have played a big role in Oakland's struggles this season as the team will miss the playoffs for the 12th straight year.
“I think it takes a toll, but it's hard to use those things,” interim coach Tony Sparano said. “Everybody's hurt right now. It's just the next-man-up mentality for us and we've been fortunate that some of these young guys have gone in there and done a good job. That's the good news, is that you're not going to have to sit here at the end of the season and wonder whether or not so-and-so can play.”
That's the one positive from all the injuries. The Raiders have gotten plenty of chances to see what some of the younger players can do when they get playing time. That will give them a better idea of what needs to be prioritized come the offseason.
“We're about playing together, we're about playing with passion,” defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “What's been great is the young men keep jumping in and rallying around each other. That's what it's about.”
Miles Burris stepped in for Roach and struggled at the start in his adjustment to middle linebacker but now has shown versatility to play all three spots in the future.
When outside linebacker Sio Moore went down last week with a season-ending hip injury, former college safety Ray-Ray Armstrong got his most extensive time ever at linebacker with 63 defensive snaps.
“It's always great having good opportunity,” Armstrong said. “It's what you do with it. Just trying to make the most of it and help my team out.”
Armstrong is not alone in getting an opportunity. Benson Mayowa, claimed off waivers from Seattle earlier this season, has gotten ample time in place of LaMarr Woodley at defensive end.
There has been a revolving door at strong safety after starter Tyvon Branch and backup Usama Young went down with injuries. Brandian Ross stepped in and played much better than he did a year ago as a replacement starter and also showed the ability to play in the slot in nickel packages.
Larry Asante also played well before he was put on injured reserve earlier this month.
The secondary has been a work in progress much of the year with starting cornerback Carlos Rogers out for the season with a knee injury and fellow starter Tarell Brown slowed in recent weeks by a foot injury.
Those injuries have allowed second-year player DJ Hayden and rookie TJ Carrie to get significant playing time that will pay off in the future.
“I think that's very, very valuable and I think there's huge carry-over,” Sparano said. “I think that that provides a real easy transition into Year 2 for them. The game doesn't surprise them. The speed of the game doesn't surprise them. The preparation that it takes to play the game doesn't surprise them.”
NOTES: The Raiders announced the game Sunday against Buffalo is sold out and will be televised locally. Oakland sold out every home game this season. … CB Tarell Brown did not practice for a second straight day with a foot injury but still could play Sunday. …DL C.J. Wilson returned on a limited basis after missing practice Wednesday with a knee injury.