Oakland Raiders linebacker Chad Kilgore at 2012 training camp (photo by Levi Damien)
You can tell Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is doing his homework when a guy like Chad Kilgore takes the field for the Raiders. He showed up the first day of Raiders training camp on July 30 and typically the pickings are slim in late July as far as finding real contributors to a team. Especially at a position like linebacker.
So when this stocky Division 2 linebacker walked in the door, your first thought was camp body. A guy who the Raiders would rent to take up a spot and take some punishment for a month and then send him on his way. But Kilgore has no plans for this stay to be temporary.
"It's just go, go, go." Said Kilgore in an exclusive interview. "The playbook is the toughest thing for me right now. The mental stuff is very important but in my situation I didn't have that long to prepare. I just gotta show them that I can play fast and physical. So, I'm playing fast and physical above all else before I start worrying about thinking too much."
Thus far that approach has paid off. He really stood out in the Raiders' first two preseason games and his hustle is noticeable. In a linebacking corps lacking depth, he has been one of the few bright spots.
He didn't come completely out of nowhere. He went to Northwest Missouri State which is where Raiders new defensive lineman Dave Tollefson went. The two of them never played together at the school but when you attend a school with so few NFL players, there is a tendency to gravitate to one another.
Tollefson approached Kilgore not ten minutes after he arrived in Napa for training camp. Since then the two have been glued to each other and their shared alma mater gives them plenty to talk about.
"As soon as I got here for my physical, he came in here and started talking to me." Said Kilgore. "We talk about Northwest probably ten times a day. We got mutual friends and it feels like you got an older brother kind of thing on the team. It's pretty cool."
"If I'm doing something that he knows I should be doing that can help me then he'll tell me to go do it. Any little thing that he thinks would help, he's on my ass about it."
Tollefson is playing the role of "older brother" pretty well these days. I caught up with the new Raider defensive end and he is quite proud of his fellow Bearcat. He spoke highly of Kilgore's performance thus far.
"He's got that same burning desire to make plays and help his team which is something that you see on film." Said Tollefson. "Chad's a really smart kid. He's super smart. The playbook, he might have been telling you it's hard for him but he's done a really good job. He doesn't have a lot of mental errors."
"I'm really proud of him. I know how hard it is... I was a seventh round pick, third from last, 12th pick of a draft class in Green Bay. He was a free agent brought here the day of camp starting. I can understand that uphill battle of trying to be noticed and you gotta keep your nose to the grindstone and keep working and that something he's done a great job of."
This scrappy linebacker has indeed had an uphill battle to be sure. But this isn't where that uphill battle began. It began with his tryout in Green Bay. If you think it's hard to make a team after a month of training camp, think of how hard it is to make it through a 30 player tryout. Kilgore knows.
"It was the same kind of situation," said Kilgore. "I just got thrown into the fire and I had to outplay thirty other guys. I know they really liked me there but I don't think they had... they brought me in more as a depth guy rather than an actual opportunity to play there. I think that's how I got an opportunity here."
It would make sense. Reggie McKenzie spent 18 seasons in the Packers' front office. There is a pretty good chance that when the Packers saw this young player who they liked but couldn't keep, knowing the Raiders were thin at linebacker, a phone call was in order.
"I didn't hear a peep out of Oakland so I didn't have any kind of idea that I'd be coming here.
"I think maybe [Reggie's Green Bay ties] did have something to do with it. I knew that the Packers had liked how I played up there so maybe they gave him a call or something there. I have a hard time believing that there wasn't something.
"[The Raiders] gave me a call the day before camp and said ‘hop on a plane' so I got on a plane like four hours after the call and I got here the day before camp."
Exactly a month has passed since the day Kilgore received that all-important phone call. It is the eve of the Raiders' final preseason game. Then Kilgore will discover his fate, or at least part of it. That is when the final roster cuts come down. Even with his standout play this preseason, he may find himself among the cuts.
The indication I am getting is the Raiders are hoping he slips through the waivers unnoticed so the team can place him on their practice squad. Kilgore will cross that bridge when he comes to it. He could make the team, he could be on the practice squad or there could be a GM from another team just waiting to nab him before the Raiders can place him on their practice squad.
The one outcome I don't expect is that we hear the last of Chad Kilgore. He has earned a place in the NFL. I just hope I didn't let the cat out of the bag on the Raiders' best kept secret so that place is in Oakland.