In the Raiders first two preseason games, linebacker Carl Ihenacho has been impressive. He has shown a great ability to stop the run and rush the passer. There seems to be little doubt of his abilities in that facet of the game.
It makes sense that would be the case considering the former San Jose State Spartan has played defensive end up to this point in his career. He has great lane discipline against the run which he showcased in the first preseason game against the Cowboys. Then he show his pass rushing ability in last week's game against the Cardinals when he strip sacked quarterback Ryan Lindley which resulted in recovery in the endzone for a defensive touchdown.
But pass rush and run stopping are just two of the skills the Raiders need from Ihenacho. The team is trying to transition him to outside linebacker in which he needs to develop some coverage skills. His one glaring mistake came in the first preseason game in which he didn't drop back into coverage and gave up a wide open catch to the tight end.
"[Working in space] is where he needs the most work." Said Dennis Allen. "When we stack him off the ball and he is the off-the-ball linebacker that is where you see that he just has not done it a lot. Those are the things that with him we are really working on. We have been impressed with some of his abilities to rush the passer. He brings that element to our defense. I think he is still learning to play the linebacker position, especially when we play him off the ball, but he has done some nice things."
It's been a quick learning curve for Ihenacho. He has benefited from having defensive coordinator Jason Tarver working with him. Tarver has a lot of experience with 3-4 linebackers-who are expected to rush the passer and drop into coverage with equal proficiency-both as the 49ers linebackers coach and the co-defensive coordinator for the Stanford 3-4 defense.
After splitting last season on the Chargers' and Raiders' practice squads, Ihenacho has had OTA's, minicamp, and three weeks of training camp to make the transition.
"It's different, but I've always been a fast learner," Ihenacho to the Bay Area News Group on Sunday "I'm trying to be a sponge out there. I'm always in my coaches' ear. How can I improve? What do I need to work on? I take any criticism I can and try to learn from it."
With two preseason games to show his skill at the line, he has two more to show how much he has learned about playing off the line.