In this installment of Working Toward the 53-Man Roster, we’ll discuss the Raiders linebacker ranks. The Raiders only have 10 linebackers on their 80-man training camp roster, and kept 7 on the 53-man roster last season, so most of the players discussed today will end up making the final roster. The bigger question for the Raiders seems to be which 3 linebackers will make up the starting rotation. Continue reading after the jump.
While the tandem of Morrison and Howard make up one of the best coverage linebacker corps in the NFL, Raiders linebackers take a lot of heat from us fans regarding the run defense. A good deal of that blame, however, has to be placed back on the defensive line for poor gap responsibilities. It’s hard for guys like Morrison and Howard to make tackles when they have to engage an offensive lineman first. Here is a breakdown of the Raiders linebackers based on the unofficial depth chart.
Many of us consider Justin Fargas to be "Mr. Raider", but many would argue that the title should go to Kirk Morrison (or Nnamdi Asomugha). Few NFL players get the opportunity to play for the team they grew up rooting for – so count Morrison as one of the lucky few. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of
Ricky Brown joined the Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2006. After training
Isaiah "Zeke" Ekejiuba initially entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 2005. The Cardinals cut Zeke before the regular season, and the Raiders signed him to their practice squad, then signed him to the active roster in Week 8 of the ’05 season. In 4 seasons with the Raiders Ekejiuba has seen very little time at linebacker, but has been a special teams standout, so much so in fact that the Raiders made him one of the highest paid special teamers that don’t kick the ball in the NFL. Ekejiuba has been working hard on his skills as a linebacker, but is still the 3rd string
With injuries to both Morrison and Ekejiuba, the Raiders needed more depth at middle linebacker for the last two weeks of the preseason. To resolve the issue, the Raiders signed former first round draft pick Napoleon Harris to a contract yesterday. Harris has played in 100 games, making 73 starts, and amassed 281 tackles. He played for the Minnesota Vikings last season at middle linebacker when starter E.J. Henderson suffered an injury. Harris is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster unless he can show some versatility by playing multiple LB positions.
The Raiders drafted Thomas Howard in the 2nd round of the 2006 NFL Draft after his impressive college career at UTEP. Howard stepped into the starting rotation immediately at weak-side linebacker and instantly became a playmaker, collecting 110 tackles in ’06. In 2007 Howard established himself as one of the best cover linebackers in the game, amassing 7 interceptions (2 for TDs). Last year opposing QBs got wise to Howard and seemed to work around him, though he still collected 97 tackles and an interception. Like Morrison, Howard is one of the best cover linebackers in the game, but struggles at time stopping the run. Under new defensive coordinator John Marshall, look for the speedy Howard to blitz more often.
David Nixon is a rookie undrafted free agent from BYU. At 6’3", 225lbs, Nixon is a bit undersized for an NFL linebacker, but what he lacks in size he seems to make up for with speed and tenacity. Still, Nixon is a huge long-shot to make the final roster.
The Raiders drafted Sam Williams in the 3rd round of the 2003 NFL Draft, and ever since has seemed to take the brunt of fans’ anger regarding Al Davis’ drafting habits and "scholarship program." Williams has been injury-prone during his 6 year career, and has generally struggled at strong-side linebacker. Still, Williams make a fairly nice contribution on special teams and actually made strides at
The two players discussed above are listed as the primary backups to Thomas Howard at weak-side linebacker. It’s no wonder then that the Raiders felt they needed to go out and bring in a LB with a better skill set for the position and much more experience. The Raiders kicked the tires on both
A 3rd round draft pick by
Brown was already discussed in the middle linebacker section. If and when Morrison returns to the lineup, expect Brown to shift back over to starting strong-side linebacker.Jon Alston
Jon Alston was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. In 2007 Alston was signed to the Raiders’ practice squad before being signed to the active roster in Week 4 of the ’07 season. Alston played sparingly at OLB in 2007, mostly making his contribution on special teams. In 2008 Alston saw his playing time go up, making 4 starts at OLB as well as becoming a stand-out special teams player. Coming into the 2009 season Alston has put on almost 10 pounds in an effort to win a starting position at strong-side linebacker. That is unlikely to happen, but Alston’s roster spot is safe because he can play both OLB positions and makes a significant contribution on special teams.Slade Norris
The Raiders drafted Slade Norris in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of
Adam’s Projected Roster:
MLB – Morrison
Backups: Alston, Norris, Ekejiuba, (????)
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