HENDERSON, Nev. — Raiders linebacker Robert Spillane played the previous four seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers and knows as much as anyone what a strong defense looks like.
He came to Las Vegas in the offseason to play for a defense that is ... well, it's not the Steelers.
But after the Raiders spent Thursday and Friday creating takeaways and giving the San Francisco 49ers' offense plenty of problems, maybe their defense isn't quite what it has been.
Spillane said he sees the same kind of passion with the Raiders' defense that he experienced in Pittsburgh.
“We've got guys who don’t want to be known as the 30th defense in the league,” Spillane said. “We want to be up there with the best, and we just go day by day getting better each day. It’s a continual process throughout the season.”
The season will be the ultimate determinator if whether Las Vegas' defense has improved and by how much. Two practice days in August, even against one of the NFL's top Super Bowl contenders, won't be remembered if the Raiders again finish near the bottom of the rankings.
They were 28th last season in total defense (365.6-yard average) and 26th in scoring defense (24.6-point average). More than that, the Raiders ranked 30th with 1.6 sacks a game and tied for last with the New Orleans Saints with a 0.8 takeaways average.
The Raiders intercepted multiple passes the past two days, most notably from two newcomers — Spillane and cornerback Marcus Peters. Spillane picked off two passes Friday, and Peters had an interception each day.
“I like the idea of any defense we put out there being aggressive and trying to get the ball,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. "We talked about that all offseason, seeing if we could improve ourselves in that area. I think the players have worked really hard at some of the techniques that you would use in trying to create turnovers.”
On the other side would be concern about a 49ers offense that had trouble holding on to the ball. Starting quarterback Brock Purdy was intercepted three times Friday, and backups Trey Lance and Sam Darnold didn't shine, either.
San Francisco offensive tackle Trent Williams said patience was needed regarding Purdy, who injured his right elbow in the NFC championship game in January.
“The guy just got back from a six-month rehab,” Williams said. “I'm definitely not putting too much into our practice reps or practice interceptions. I literally don't even think about it one second. I wouldn't have known if you didn't tell me."
An effective Raiders interior pass rush helped contribute to those 49ers passing struggles. Jerry Tillery got some pressure in the backfield as did Nesta Jade Silvera, taken in the seventh round this year out of Arizona State.
As porous as the Raiders' pass rush was last season, end Maxx Crosby was the one notable standout. He had 12 1/2 sacks in 2022, and over the two practice days got tested against Williams, an All-Pro the past two years.
“I want to go against the best,” Crosby said. "I want to be the best in the league. I know he’s literally the best in the league. So, yeah, just being able to get those reps and get better is what football is about.”
Williams said he loved the one-on-one matchups, and the two said they learned from each other.
“Maxx is an outstanding player, one of the best we've got in this league,” Williams said. “So being able to work with him and get some dialogue back and forth, I think it helped both of us out a lot. I've got a lot respect for his game. A big fan of his.”
NOTES: Veteran RB Damien Williams signed with the Raiders. He has 1,397 career yards rushing with 14 touchdowns, and has 154 catches for 1,209 yards and 11 TDs. Williams has played for four teams over eight years. His best season was in 2019 when he rushed for 498 yards for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. ... The 49ers signed DL Breeland Speaks to a one-year contract. He played in the USFL last year. ... San Francisco CB Anthony Averett was placed on injured reserve, meaning he won't play this season. He played for the Raiders last year before suffering a season-ending toe injury. ... Multiple Raiders didn't practice, including WR Hunter Renfrow and TE Michael Mayer. ... The Raiders and Niners play each other in a preseason game on Sunday in Las Vegas.