The Raiders began holding their rookie minicamp on Friday. On the field were their six draft picks along with 13 undrafted free agent signees and 41 other rookies. Many of whom are on a tryout basis. There isn't a lot set in stone with regard to these rookies. Not just who will make camp among these players but where they will ultimately be playing if they do. This goes doubly true for the defensive players.
New defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver, has settled on the defensive scheme he will be instituting this season. He said as much after practice on Saturday.
"Well, the very first thing is, we're going to be multiple," said Tarver. "And one of our phrases is `multiplicity through simplicity' so we're going to have defenses where everyone is going to have a turn to cover and rush and those type things. It will be multiple, but it will allow our players to do what they do best. If they're good in one-gap systems, they'll be in one gap systems. We're very excited about that. It's a matter now of teaching the rules, controlling what we can control and how everything works.
He later emphasized "We have a pretty good idea what we want to do." Saying that what the Raiders do will not be dictated as much by personnel. The coaches have a plan for this defense and they will stick with it. Now it is about finding which players on this team can fit the roles. And if they aren't on this team, to find them.
There are several Raider rookies who have versatility and some who the Raiders simply don't yet know where they will fit into the scheme of things.
"We like guys that can do a lot of things but the biggest thing with our players is this: we want them to have a position, learn their rules for that position, and be flexible enough to help us win games. So, you don't want to pin them into a hole yet, especially these young guys at this camp, we don't necessarily know what their best fit might be. So we're just going to teach them the defense and see how it goes. We're going to get them better and then if we need to make an adjustment, we will."
One guy Tarver is excited about is fourth round pick, linebacker Miles Burris.
Burris played every position in the linebacking corps at San Diego State. The Raiders drafted him as an outside linebacker but that doesn't mean that's where he will stay.
"Well, you like the guys that have skills," said Tarver. "You like when you can see a guy on college film be able to pass rush, be able to drop, be able to cover, you know... Because you're gonna blitz guys, you're gonna have to cover guys, you're gonna have to do everything in the NFL if you're really going to stop somebody. So, Miles, his versatility but also just Miles as a person-he loves football, you can see it already. He got better today from yesterday. Excited about Miles. Love to put him in the mix with these linebackers and compete. The group got better. Now, we're gonna put him in there, we're gonna teach him how to play and let him compete. Competition makes you better. I kinda sound like the guy across the bay."
Burris himself won't reveal exactly how the Raiders intend to use him. That info is top secret these days as the Raiders institute a new defense they hope to spring upon unsuspecting opponents.
"I'm just happy to play wherever the coaches want me." Said Burris. "And wherever I can contribute to this team and making the team is my biggest concern right now. I just want to help the Oakland Raiders be successful.
"I'd be comfortable at middle. In our scheme I was the outside linebacker but I played inside and outside in the scheme based on what the offense gave us. I'm just happy to contribute wherever I can on this team."
This multiple defense the Raiders are set to deploy will be completely dependent upon guys like Burris. Their draft and the players they have signed since then have all pointed toward finding guys that are skilled in either multiple areas or are a jack of all trades, master of none. Or to be more specific, the Raiders hope they can find that position where these new players can master.
There are a a few rookies in camp who the Raiders are looking to discover hidden talent. Many of their draft picks will switch positions. Third round pick Tony Bergstrom will go from college offensive tackle to offensive guard for the Raiders. Sixth round pick Christo Bilukidi was a defensive end in college and will move to defensive tackle. Seventh round pick Nathan Stupar will move from outside linebacker to middle/inside linebacker.
Several other rookies are making transitions to other positions. Practice squad player Eddie McGee was signed by the team last year after playing quarterback most of his college career. Recently signed Andre Hardy didn't even play football in college-he was a basketball player-and he will play at tight end. Undrafted free agent Chaz Powell played both cornerback and wide receiver in college and the Raiders will try him at safety.
The Raiders have experience with players who they uncovered late in the draft or as free agents who became stars at other positions. Marcel Reece and Tyvon Branch jump to mind. Reece was a wide receiver in college who the Raiders initially brought in as a tight end and converted him to fullback. Branch was a low round cornerback prospect who the Raiders took in the fourth round and converted to safety.
If Burris can be the type of fourth round pick Branch turned out to be and the Raiders can pull out another Pro Bowl caliber player out of their undrafted player signings, this class will be a success.
And if they can have the versatility that will be required by Tarver's new defense, this team will be a success as well.