While I have my reservations about Al Davis' past first round picks including one still on the roster in DHB, I am among the few that still believes all is not lost for our middle linebacker who we all had such high hopes for coming out Alabama.
The simple reason I believe this is because this is the first time he will have a professional coaching staff prioritizing the side of the ball where he earns his living. Attention to detail can work wonders for those that need extra focus on their crafts. Some never pan out (eg. Jamarcus.) but this is a kid who was considered Nick Saban's prized recruit coming out of Decatur High School in 2007 and other than the great Derrick Thomas was the only Crimson Tide player to be honored as the Butkus Award winner. Other than his pedigree, there are three reasons I see hope for him and they are Jason Tarver, Johhny Ray Holland, and Dennis Allen.
Jason Tarver has 10 years as a professional coach with the SF 49ers in multiple capacities and 5 yrs in college ranks. He graduated from Santa Clara with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry in 1997 but went on to UCLA in 98-00 to pursue his master's degree as a graduate student.
During his tenure with the 49ers, he was known for developing lesser known players such as Parys Haralson who earned a starting role a year after he was forced to take Manny Lawson's place due to injury in 2007.
He was named Co-DC as well as ILB last season with the Stanford Cardinal. Once again his tutelage was on display as his work with first year players AJ Tarpley and Derek Lancaster helped their defense rank 1st or 2nd in 6 defensive categories and also 3rd in rushing defense nationally. This all in spite of the loss of All-Conference linebacker Shayne Skov early in the season.
Johnny Ray Holland is the current linebackers coach of the Raiders and is well-known to Packers fans since he was a consumate professional from 1987-94 as a linebacker. He was named team rookie of the year in '87 and went on to have six straight 100+ tackle seasons. In 1992, he suffered the first (a herniated cervical disc) of two neck injuries that cut short his career. He returned in 1993 with a career high 145 tackles. The second injury forced him to retire in 1994. He has 17 years experience as an NFL coach including seven as LB coach starting in Green Bay in '99, Detroit in '05 and five more seasons with Houston from 06-11. He helped in the development of two Defensive Rookies of the Year Demeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. If he can't get the best out of McClain, I don't have a clue who can.
Finally, there is Dennis Allen. The first defensive-minded head coach of the Raiders in over 40 years. His father Grady was a standout LB for Texas A&M and later in the NFL with Atlanta. Dennis followed his father's foot steps playing safety at A&M from 1992-95 where he was a part of the legendary "Wrecking Crew" defense starting the final 21 games of his career.
Through his coaching career he is known for a bend but don't break style defense. While with New Orleans in 2008, the team surrendered an average of 321 yds per game but was 3rd in Interceptions and last season while DC with Denver was ranked 23rd overall in yds allowed, they also ranked 5th in sacks forced.
Oakland currently boasts two top 10 NFL draft picks who for the most part haven't fulfilled the potential expected from either of them. At Alabama, Rolando McClain helped his team rank 2nd in rush defense his sophmore and junior season. He was named the 2009 Butkus Award winner and was drafted 8th overall in 2010.
Aaron Curry tied an NCAA record with 3 interception returns for touchdowns as a redshirt junior at Wake Forest. As a senior he led the team with 123 tackles and was named ACC Conference Player of the Year. He was drafted 4th overall by Seattle in 2009 and after trying him at different positions including inside and outside linebacker in 4-3 and 3-4 alignments, he was ultimately traded to Oakland for a 7th round pick at the 2011 trade deadline.
While some believe micro-management is the worst way to get through to some players, I believe it would work with this group. Oakland set an NFL record for penalties and was nearly a team historical worst in most defensive categories whether many want to admit otherwise. I think it can be the difference between a dreadful and a respectable defensive unit going forward.