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Raiders cautiously optimistic after draft, busy offseason

As dusk fell on the heavy-lifting phase of a busy offseason, a sense of cautious optimism flowing from the Raiders’ facility in Henderson could be felt all the way to Allegiant Stadium. It reflects a team that thinks it made the necessary moves in the past two months to address weaknesses that sabotaged their playoff hopes in the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

But also a self-awareness that realization won’t happen until fall when the seeds they planted begin to blossom.

“Time will tell” was a frequently used response deep inside their building during the three-day NFL draft.

They squared away their open jobs at right tackle and free safety with the additions of Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood and Texas Christian safety Trevon Moehrig. Both were at the top of the Raiders’ draft board at pick No. 17 in the first round and into the second, when they moved up five spots in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to take Moehrig.

Each is expected to be a starter when training camp opens in the summer.

That followed a frenzied free-agent period in which they added an established pass rusher in Yannick Ngakoue, revamped the interior of their defensive line with Solomon Thomas, Quinton Jefferson, Darius Philon and David Irving, and added secondary depth with cornerback Rasul Douglas and safety Karl Joseph.

The defensive tinkering continued on days two and three of the draft with the selections of defensive end Malcolm Koonce of Buffalo, linebacker Divine Deablo of Virginia Tech, safety Tyree Gillespie of Missouri and cornerback Nate Hobbs of Illinois.

The result is a deeper, more versatile defensive line, a safety group the better reflects the needs of new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and depth and competition at all three cornerback spots.

And they did so with the blessing of offensive-minded coach Jon Gruden, who was willing to address a defense that surrendered the third-most points in the NFL last season and blew three late-game leads late in the season to sink the Raiders’ playoff hopes.

In fact, no one was more excited than Gruden as the Raiders went about checking off all their defensive boxes.

“Jon Gruden is an offensive guy, but what did we do all weekend, we tried to help our defense get better, and I give him a ton of credit for that,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “He was all-in. … I could not have been happier with the way Jon supported the whole thing this weekend, and he knew just like I knew we got a long way to go on defense.”

The cautious side to the optimism is the understanding that for full blossom to occur, the new draft class needs to deliver; Cory Littleton, a free-agent disappointment last season, needs to get back on track; and members of the 2019 and 2020 draft classes need to take big steps forward.

That includes defensive ends Cle Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, cornerbacks Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen and safety Johnathan Abram.

Otherwise, much of the past two months might end up moot.

“The guys from two years ago have been pretty good football players, but we’ve got to get a bounce from that group last year on both sides of the football,” Mayock said.

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

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