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Raiders get help on defensive, offensive lines

ALAMEDA – The Oakland Raiders started the second day of the NFL draft with the same strategy they used in the first: addressing a leaky run defense. They then used their third round pick to do what was expected since last year by taking an offensive lineman Friday.

After trading down five spots in two separate trades, the Raiders drafted Texas defensive lineman Lamarr Houston with the 12th pick of the second round.

They followed that up by taking offensive tackle Jared Veldheer of Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan in the third round. That’s the highest draft position for a Division II player since defensive end Lamar King of Saginaw Valley was taken in the first round by Seattle in 1999.

“If we didn’t see him in all-star games, if we didn’t see him play up, if we didn’t see him at the combine, things like that, then I think you’d have some bigger questions,” coach Tom Cable said. “But seeing him against better competition, he performed very, very well.”

After not drafting an offensive lineman at all last year to fill a position of need, the Raiders waited until the third round to make a move for one this year and found one from an unusual spot.

They bypassed workout warrior Bruce Campbell, who many people had projected to go to Oakland in the first round because of his fast 40 time, to take a small-college player who was selected to the AP Little All-American team his senior season.

“As every year developed and went on, I kept getting better, I kept getting stronger and faster, and that dream became a reality, especially that junior year,” he said. “I had a very good season and a good Junior Day. Then this season went well, everything leading up to the draft, the combine, the all-star game, everything went awesome. Ending it tonight with Oakland picking me with that 69th pick in the draft, it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

Veldheer has NFL size, standing 6-foot-8, 312 pounds, and is considered to have good footwork. But now he will face a much stiffer level of competition.

The Raiders need help right away on the line. Left tackle Mario Henderson allowed a league-worst 10 1/2 sacks last season, while Langston Walker, Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears are competing on the right side. Cable said Veldheer can play either side and expects him to be able to make an immediate impact.

“I’m pretty excited about Jared because I feel like this is going to be a short window for him and he can contribute,” Cable said.

Veldheer had a good indication Oakland was interested after visiting the Raiders earlier in the month and meeting for about 20 minutes with owner Al Davis.

“To be able to meet with the guy who put the league where it is today was a very special thing,” Veldheer said. “He had said that he watched my tape and liked the way I played. He discussed with me how he wants to win another Super Bowl. I told him I’m definitely on board with that and I’d love to help the team out.”

Veldheer is the fifth Hillsdale player drafted since the common draft began in 1967 and the first since receiver Nate Johnson was taken in the seventh round by Pittsburgh in 1980. The only Hillsdale player taken higher was kicker Chester Marcol, who was picked in the second round by Green Bay in 1972.

The last offensive lineman drafted out of Hillsdale was Howard Mudd, a ninth-rounder by San Francisco in 1964. Mudd went on to be one of the league’s top offensive line coaches with Indianapolis.

Houston will team with middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who was taken eighth overall in the first round, to try to upgrade one of the biggest weaknesses in recent years for Oakland.

Oakland has the worst run defense in the league over the past seven seasons, allowing NFL-worsts of 143.7 yards rushing per game and 146 touchdowns on the ground – 15 more than the second-worst team, St. Louis. The Raiders finished 29th in run defense last season, allowing 155.5 yards per game.

Those problems have played a key part in the team’s run of seven straight seasons of at least 11 losses – the worst such stretch in NFL history. The Raiders are 29-83 since going to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the second-worst record in the NFL in that span.

“I’m bringing a physical attitude,” Houston said. “A physical attitude, someone whose motor is high and ready to play football. So I’m excited about trying to change the face of the Raiders defense.”

The Raiders have also placed a priority on finding players with winning pedigrees, adding a pair of players so far who played in the BCS national championship game last season. Houston had 10 tackles and a sack in Texas’ 37-21 loss to McClain and Alabama.

Houston was a starter his final three seasons at Texas. He had 14 career sacks and 25 tackles for losses, playing both defensive end and tackle under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. He will play left end for the Raiders.

“He prepared me for the NFL and brought some of the complexity of those schemes to my college and I’m ready to use those against guys in the NFL,” Houston said. “I’ll be able to learn quicker, pickup my plays and get ready to go.”

The Raiders still have six picks remaining in this draft. They added two third-day picks by moving down twice in the second round, acquiring a fifth-rounder from Tampa Bay to move down three spots and then a sixth-rounder from New England to drop two more spots.


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