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Oakland Raiders defensive backs coach Rod Woodson, left, and Tyvon Branch pay attention to some defensive drills during practice at their training camp in Napa, Calif., on Wednesday, July 28, 2011. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

With 10 of 11 returning starters, the Raiders defense that takes the field against the Arizona Cardinals won't look much different from the enigmatic unit of 2010.

Defensive coordinator John Marshall and his assistants were sent packing when coach Hue Jackson rebuilt the staff. The unmistakable message: Last season's wild fluctuation in performance, from dominant to dormant, had more to do with coaching than personnel.

New coordinator Chuck Bresnahan won't get into specifics about strategic or philosophical changes as the Raiders play their exhibition opener Thursday night at O.co Coliseum. But he pledges the differences will be noticed, and welcomed.

"I plead the Fifth; I won't say," Bresnahan said. "You'll be excited when you see. You'll be excited."

In a manner that defensive tackle Tommy Kelly termed, "Stop, stop ... boom!," the Raiders were exciting last season in a good way and a bad way, capable of making plays behind the line of scrimmage or giving up yards in chunks.

Good enough against the run to give up just 83.6 yards per game within the AFC West, including a season-ending beat-down of division champion and NFL team rushing leader Kansas City.

Bad enough to give up 188 yards per game against everyone else.

Good enough to give up just 189.2 yards per game passing and allow just 53 percent of passes to be completed -- the second-best figures in the NFL. And to pile up 47 sacks, tied for second with Green Bay and San Diego.


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Bad enough to give up 29 touchdown passes. Only four teams surrendered more.

To make the necessary repairs, the Raiders eventually turned to Bresnahan, who was defensive coordinator from 2000 through 2003, a span that included three consecutive division titles and an AFC championship.

Exactly when Bresnahan became defensive coordinator is not clear. He was hired as a "defensive assistant" Feb. 2 but not named coordinator until March 7.

There were no reports of the Raiders interviewing other candidates, although a request by Jackson to interview New York Jets defensive-backs coach Dennis Thurman was turned down.

Bresnahan declined to get into the particulars of his return. He spent the past two seasons with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League and enjoyed working with young players who were hungry to play and weren't making a lot of money.

Fired after the 2003 season with Bill Callahan's staff, Bresnahan was replaced by Rob Ryan when Norv Turner came aboard as head coach. He even won a grievance against the Raiders with regard to back pay but somehow managed to keep from burning that bridge.

"I'm excited to be back," Bresnahan said. "I've wanted to do this for about three years, to be honest with you. What better way to come back to the place where you kind of let one slip away in 2002 (in Super Bowl XXXVII)?

"You can come back and shoot for another year of doing it right and win another one for this organization and our owner."

Included on Bresnahan's staff are cornerbacks coach Rod Woodson and linebackers coach Greg Biekert, both of whom played under Bresnahan during his first tenure in Oakland.

Woodson said he expects the Raiders to mix schemes and coverages rather than relying as heavily on man-to-man coverage with their cornerbacks.

"I'm going to run it the same way I did before," Bresnahan said. "It may have different twists and tweaks, but I know how to work within the organization. I know the staples of the Raider organization, and I believe in them."

Second-year middle linebacker Rolando McClain said, "Coach Chuck, he's made things a lot more defined, so I'm able to play a lot faster."

Bresnahan watched plenty of film of last year's defense to evaluate personnel, but he is more interested in improvement than airing critiques.

"I would say we have to be more consistent, plain and simple, and eliminate explosive plays," Bresnahan said. "If we do those two things, we'll be a better defense."