On Saturday, the Raiders got their late-season defensive reinforcement.
Not the one who makes the biggest headlines but, likely, the one who makes the biggest impact.
While the Raiders still don’t know what’s going on with suspended outside linebacker Aldon Smith, they do know what’s going on with prized defensive lineman Mario EdwardsJr.
After being out the entire season, having suffered a hip injury in the first preseason game, Edwards finally returned to the field on Saturday against Indianapolis.
“I felt good,” he said. “Just shaking the rust off and getting my feet wet.”
Edwards didn’t show up on the defensive stat sheet. But he played about 16 or 17 snaps and helped slow down the Colts’ running game.
Edwards was a second-round pick in 2015 out of Florida State who made an impact in his rookie season with 41 tackles, two sacks and 10 starts. Though his injury was originally expected to keep him out just six to eight weeks, he felt soreness when he first returned to practice. So the Raiders shut him down again, reactivating him in the past week.
“If felt good to be out there with (Khalil) Mack and the boys again,” he said. “To be out there in that brotherhood.”
Even though Smith met with Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, the only one particularly eager for Smith to come back is Smith himself (and his athletic trainer, who recently gave an interview to The Chronicle that might not have helped Smith’s cause).
The Raiders have done fine without Smith, and his unpredictability and potential for erratic behavior could disrupt a very cohesive locker room chemistry. Mack and Bruce Irvin are doing their Batman and Robin act, getting steady pressure on the quarterback.
But the pressure is on the entire defense going forward, thanks to the injury to Derek Carr on Saturday. The Raiders’ offense has won plenty of games. That burden now shifts to the other side of the field.
“The defense is going to have to step up,” Edwards said. “Everyone will have to step up.”
At least the defense has been fortified in late December.