Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
It can be difficult to find just the right player for the middle linebacker position. The Raiders need to try and find that player. Free agency could be the answer.
It has been a while since the Raiders had solid play from the middle linebacker spot. The team drafted Rolando McClain in 2010 to take the place of Kirk Morrison. All McClain has done since was make the team miss Morrison all the more.
Last season, the new coaching staff had high hopes for McClain, but by week four, they realized he had let them down and would continue to do so. He played sparingly the middle third of the season until his blow up in practice at which point he didn't play in another game. He is expected to be out the door on Tuesday and the team could have his replacement in house shortly thereafter.
Here are some of the more likely candidates to have the luxury of following the Ruh Ro' Show opening act:
Brad Jones, 26, Packers
This former outside linebacker flourished at middle linebacker last season for the Packers. His experience in coverage from the outside helped him put up some of the best coverage numbers among inside/middle linebackers. He also plays the run extremely well.
"Jones proved himself to be a versatile, consistent linebacker this year and throughout his Packers career," said Evan Western of Acme Packing Company. "In the 2012 minicamps, Jones was tried out inside and... filled in capably this season, and was one of the Packers' better linebackers in coverage. He's not overly physical or fast, but he's intelligent, knows his role, and doesn't really miss assignments. In all, he's probably a player who has both a high floor and a low ceiling; he won't be a game-changer, but he'll likely be a steady, reliable presence."
Grant was coached by Jason Tarver when he was a linebackers coach with the 49ers three seasons ago. He has sat behind the All Pro duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman his entire career. It is time for a change of scenery or at least a slight change to across the bay. He is a native of Santa Rosa which is a few miles from Raiders training camp in Napa. Grant could prove as solid a replacement as any at the middle linebacker spot. That is if he feels up to the jump in responsibility.
"In 2012, Larry Grant was almost exclusively a special teams player," said David Fucillo of Niners Nation. "Grant did get three starts late in 2011 when Willis suffered a hamstring injury and was very solid... While not as strong an athlete as Willis or Bowman, he can make the needed tackles, and can be a solid play inside... He is not as athletic as the better linebackers in the league, so there is concern that he could get worn down in an every-down role."
Ellerbe is considered more of a 3-4 inside linebacker because that's the system in which he's played over his entire NFL career. Then again, so has Ray Lewis for the past 11 years and last season, by some accounts, Ellerbe outplayed Lewis before Lewis was lost to injury. That's high praise. It was a breakout season for Ellerbe. One in which he started 7 games and had 89 tackles, both of which were more than he had in his first three seasons combined. He also had 32 tackles in the Ravens' playoff run and intercepted Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game. He and Lewis teamed up to help the Ravens win the Super Bowl. Most think Ellerbe is just scratching the surface.
Rey Maualuga, 26, Bengals - He has been effectively replaced in Cincinnati by Vontaze Burfict. While Maualuga struggles in pass coverage, he also had a career high in tackles (122). He also seems to have put his off the field problems behind him. Getting out of Cincinnati can only help continue his positive life path.
Nick Barnett, 31, Bills -- Reggie McKenzie and the Packers won the Super Bowl in Barnett's final season with the team. Raiders new linebackers coach Bob Sanders coached Barneet as the defensive coordinator in Green Bay from 2006-08 and as Bills linebackers coach the past two seasons. Barnett's numbers last season in Buffalo put him among the best linebackers in the league both in run support and coverage. He is also a very solid tackler which has been a real concern with the Raiders of late. He is a native of Fontana California (east of Los Angeles) so he could welcome finishing his career closer to home.