ALAMEDA — Lamarr Houston’s time in the shadows of the Oakland Raiders defensive line is over.
After spending his first three seasons as the young guy on a veteran line dominated by Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, Houston is being counted on to lead Oakland’s front.
He has moved from left defensive end to the right side, where he is being counted on as the primary pass rusher on a defense that has no proven player when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
He has also stepped into the leadership void on a defense that will have nine new starters from last season.
“Fortunately I was here with Seymour and Tommy and they taught me a lot,” Houston said. “I’ve been learning and I’m still learning. But being one of the older guys on the line, I just feel it’s my job to help the other guys to come along and get toward the vision we want as a team.”
The Raiders overhauled their defense after it struggled a year ago in the first season under defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver. Seymour, Kelly, Rolando McClain and Michael Huff were all cut. Philip Wheeler, Matt Shaughnessy and Desmond Bryant were among those who left in free agency.
In total, the players who won’t be on the active roster for Sunday’s opener against the Indianapolis Colts accounted for 79 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago.
“He’s running that show there up front,” Tarver said. “We’re excited about what he’s doing. He’s the one that’s running that group and he does a good job with it.”
As much as the Raiders need leadership, they really need a pass rush from Houston. The entire defensive roster accounted for just 16 sacks in the NFL last year and lacks a proven pass rusher.
Houston rushed the passer from the left side more than 90 percent of the time last season, according to game-tracking by the Website Pro Football Focus.
“He’s demonstrated that he’s got the best ability as a rusher,” Allen said. “He’s a little bit more of a power rusher than he is a speed rusher. But I really think he’s a guy that can help getting some pressure on the quarterback.”
He was rated the 15th best 4-3 defensive end at pressuring the passer with four sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 35 quarterback hurries. His production picked up as the season went along with 25 of his 53 pressures and three of his sacks coming in the final five games.
He will be counted on to be the team’s primary pass rusher to disrupt the opposing quarterback from the blind side.
“Everybody takes pride in getting the quarterback down,” he said. “That’s one of Al Davis’ most famous quotes. Take the quarterback down in the first couple of plays and take him down hard. As a D-lineman I pride myself on trying to get to the quarterback.”
Houston has been at his best early in his career as an edge-setting defensive end in the run game. He has just 10 career sacks and is more of a power rusher than a typical speed guy who beats tackles around the edge to get to the quarterback.
After cutting veteran pass rusher Andre Carter to get down to the 53-man roster limit, the current Raiders defense has no proven pass rusher.
The Raiders need an upgrade from the pass rush after having a franchise-low 25 sacks a year ago if this defense is going to be able to slow down opposing offenses.
“I want to be a complete player,” Houston said. “Some of the best guys who ever played on the D-line did a pretty good job of both stopping the run and sacking the quarterback. Guys like Deacon Jones, Reggie White, John Randle. I think it’s important to be the total player.”
NOTES: LT Menelik Watson missed practice a day after tweaking his knee. If he can’t play Sunday, the Raiders would only have two healthy tackles with Khalif Barnes forced to move to the left side and newly signed Tony Pashos stepping in on the right. Oakland could activate Matt McCants off the practice squad to get a backup tackle on the roster Sunday. ... K Sebastian Janikowski returned to practice on a limited basis after being sidelined by a sore right calf. ... LB Sio Moore was limited with a foot injury.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org