The Oakland Raiders are rebuilding their defense from the bear bones on up. Continuing my look at the rebuilding process, today we take a look at the linebacker position. You can check out the defensive end and defensive tackle positions in the first two posts of this series.
As the roster currently stands, the linebacking unit is easily the strongest unit for the Raiders. After overhauling it last season, McKenzie took an ax to it again this offseason as the Raiders said goodbye to Philip Wheeler and will soon do the same to Rolando McClain. But McKenzie also went out and signed three young linebackers who will all be significant contributors in 2013, Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava.
Already on the Raiders roster are Miles Burris, Keilin Burnett, Travis Goethal and practice squaders Jerrell Harris, Mario Kurn and Keenan Clayton. The three practice squad guys can be dismissed for our purposes, there is little chance they will make the roster and if one does, they will not likely contribute much.
Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett are the two most exciting players in this young group. Roach comes from the Chicago Bears where he primarily played outside backer, but showed his versatility by playing in the middle when Brian Urlacher was injured. He also has the nice mixture of size and speed that enables him to be on the field for all four downs.
Kevin Burnett comes from the Miami Dolphins where he was an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Most see Burnett as the biggest pick up for the Raiders so far this off season. Still young and full of potential, Burnett has been very productive in Miami and looks like he could be an anchor for the Raiders young defense.
Maiava on the other hand, is a guy who will likely contribute, but I just do not see him beating out incumbant Miles Burris for a starting job. Maiava is undersized but makes up for that with athleticism and good speed. He is a special teams stud who would make for great depth behind Roach, Burnett and Burris.
Speaking of Burris, the fourth round pick in 2012 for the Raiders was a big time player as a rookie. He was consistently all over the field and at the end of every play, you could find his number within a three yard area around the ball carrier. Eventually, he replaced Rolando McClain in the nickel package and the Raiders defense improved immediately. Towards the end of the season his play began to fall off, but that is no surprise for a rookie since the NFL season is significantly longer than a college season.
Overall position grade: B-
This grade is largely due to the potential for this to be a very special unit. It is yet to see if all of these guys will live up to their potential, but if they do, Reggie McKenzie may have found backers that will start for the Raiders for years to come.