When the Oakland Raiders drafted stud LB Khalil Mack, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the former University of Buffalo standout would be an immediate starter on the squad’s revamped defense. And his performance through Oakland’s OTAs and minicamp has done nothing to diminish that expectation. What Mack’s arrival has done however, is push second-year man Sio Moore – himself a standout in his rookie season – to the weakside, and into a pitched battled with both Kevin Burnett and Miles Burris for playing time. As well as for the coveted starter’s role.
Moore posted a very solid rookie season in which he racked up 49 tackles, 4.5 sacks and was a fairly disruptive force all over the field. He was one of the very few bright spots on a defense that gave up yards and points at franchise record levels. Most assumed that Moore, even with the addition of Mack, would be starting opposite the rookie linebacker, and that paired together, they would form one of the most dangerous, and ferocious young linebacking tandems in the NFL.
And they still might. But the early indications out of the Raiders’ recently concluded minicamp is that it is Burris – finally healthy after an injury marred 2013 – who is making the most noise and the biggest push for the starting job. Thus far, he’s outperformed Moore, who is still adjusting to the change in position for him. In discussing Moore, and some of his struggles early on, HC Dennis Allen said this, according to nbcsports.com:
“We need him to keep progressing. We need him to stay in the moment, and learn from some of the guys we’ve brought in. He needs to take one play at a time, and regardless of what happens, move on to the next play.”
This isn’t to suggest that Burris is a lock to take the starting job – despite the fact that he’s been getting the majority of reps with Oakland’s “non-first team, first team,” throughout OTAs and the minicamp. If anything, the Raiders, and specifically DC Jason Tarver, love what Moore brings to the table – not to mention the possibilities of he and Mack terrorizing opposing quarterbacks together – and will give him every possible chance to win or lose the starting job. Tarver has been very supportive of Moore as he transitions back to a position he’s had some experience with in college.
“He’s quick in reading off the line of scrimmage. There are a few things he doesn’t know, but he’s gotten better. He’s had some ups and downs in these practices, but that’s because he hasn’t seen things from that perspective.”
The wild care in all of this, of course, is veteran Kevin Burnett who continues to rehab an ankle injury and has yet to practice with the team. Burnett played in all 16 games for Oakland last season, and had a pretty productive year in which he totaled 105 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Burnett stayed away from the voluntary portion of the OTAs leading many to believe that he is unhappy with the prospected of a reduced role in the team’s defensive sets, and is wondering what his future holds with the Raiders. Burnett is under contract this season, but Tarver and Allen both seem to be leaning toward a youth movement of sorts.
With only so many defensive snaps to go around, somebody looks to be the odd man out. Mack isn’t going anywhere. And given Burris’ play so far, as well as Moore’s talent and upside, it will likely be Burnett who is on the outside looking in. But as the Raiders roll into camp next month, the fight for position in the team’s linebacking corps will be one of the fiercest and most interesting to watch play out. Allen will have some very tough decisions to make, but the linebacking unit looks to once again be a real strength for Oakland.