Oakland Raiders Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

By Jonathan Comeaux
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Oakland Raiders‘ linebacking corps is brand new, outside of Miles Burris and Kaelin Burnett, the group is pretty altogether. You’d think with a team losing their top two linebackers, things would be in a bit of a mess. However, the 2012 group itself was a mess with the troubled Rolando McClain leading the bunch. This offseason, G.M. Reggie McKenzie brought in a good core of players to bring stability to the group.

Nick Roach was brought in from the Chicago Bears to play as the team’s primary middle linebacker. For Chicago, Roach served primarily as the team’s Sam-Backer. When Brian Urlacher went down with an injury, Roach did well replacing him in the middle.

Roach couldn’t be more of a different player than McClain was. Roach may not have the hitting power that McClain had, but he makes up for it in speed. McClain mostly succeeded as a run-stuffer, grading very well against the run according to Pro Football Focus. Conversely, Roach played well defending the pass: — as a MLB, he only allowed 64 percent of passes against him and didn’t allow a touchdown all season.

Also, Head Coach Dennis Allen thinks highly of Roach, “Nick’s highly intelligent and he’s athletic,” Allen said. “He’s done a nice job of kind of being the quarterback of our defense. He’s kind of taken on that role and really has a passion about leading that team.”

Kevin Burnett was another good addition by McKenzie this offseason. Burnett graded as the fourth best OLB in 2012 by Pro Football Focus in the 4-3 set. Burnett brings lots of versatility to the Raiders defense as he has the ability to play in both 4-3 and 3-4 sets. With the Miami Dolphins, Burnett played a large amount of time as an inside LB in the 3-4 before switching to the 4-3 in 2012. With his experience and Oakland possibly running more plays out of the 3-4, Burnett is gaining a major role in the Silver-and-Black’s defense.

The other free-agent LB addition in the 2013 offseason was Kaluka Maiava. Like Burnett, he also graded as a top 10 OLB by Pro Football Focus’ standards, this time at number seven. Going on his fifth year in the NFL, adding Maiava was a safe gamble at three years, $6 million. Maiava will likely play as a SAM backer out of the 4-3 for Oakland. Hopefully he can just stay away from the bar scene.

The player I’m probably most interested in heading into camp is third-round rookie selection, Sio Moore. If one word described Moore, it’d be explosive. Scouting Moore is easy to see his monstrous pass-rush ability. With the athleticism he possess, Moore could play as a hybrid DE/OLB in a 3-4 set, while also playing as in OLB in the 4-3.

Coach Allen has also noticed Moore’s talents. “His ability to understand multiple positions has been good. He’s athletic in space, which was something Philip (Wheeler) was really good at. I think he’s got great awareness for the game and he’s probably got a little bit more coming off the edge.”

Though new players in a new system may have some growing pains, McKenzie has built a very versatile linebacking corps. Training camp should help give insight to how the rotation plays out.

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