The Oakland Raiders had a very busy off season, and no position saw more action from the Raiders front offices than the linebacker position. The Raiders cut starting middle linebacker Rolando McClain and let free agent linebacker Philip Wheeler go sign an absurd contract in Miami. That meant the only returning starting linebacker was second year player Miles Burris.
Then the Raiders went on a linebacker binge. They started by signing a special teams stud with potential to be a starter on defense with Kaluka Maiava. Not exactly a flashy signing, Maiava will likely contribute mostly on special teams and as a back up linebacker.
Next, general manager Reggie McKenzie signed former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach. Typically an outside backer, Roach showed his versatility by filling in at middle linebacker when Brian Urlacher was injured. Roach is young and eager to prove that he is ready to be a special player. He has the potential to be very good, now he has his chance to show that as he will likely be a starter in Oakland.
In his final linebacker free agent signing, McKenzie added a veteran to the group of young misfits in Kevin Burnett. The older brother of Kaelin Burnett who was signed by the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Burnett is also a versatile linebacker, but one who has found more success in 3-4 defenses. That being said, he is a veteran and a good leader in the locker room. He will likely be the leader of the linebacker group.
And just when you thought the Raiders had added all of the linebackers they could add, along came Sio Moore. The Raiders drafted the University of Connecticut outside linebacker in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Moore was a talent the Raiders just could not pass up on. A talent that should have gone much earlier, Sio dropped and the Raiders benefited. Moore could push for a starting spot this season if for no other reason than the fact that right now he represents one of the best pass rush threats the Raiders have.
With all of those linebackers, many expected the Raiders to switch to a 3-4 base defense this season. The defensive line is not great and with the glut of backers, it just seemed to make sense. But head coach Dennis Allen put a stop to that rumor in his press conference during rookie camp.
"Listen, we’re basing out of a 4-3, just like we did last year," said Allen. "But we’re going to have the ability to have some 3-4 looks, being able to implement those things and try to make them as simple as we can for our players, as well as try to make it complicated for the offense. A lot of people look at, 'Well, they got this linebacker, they got this linebacker', we’re stacked at linebacker, now all of a sudden we’re going to a 3-4. Well, that’s not really necessarily the case.
Makes sense that Allen would not want to completely change the defense in one year. While the Raiders did see a lot of people leave on the defensive side of the ball this off season, there are still some main stays like Lamarr Houston, Tyvon Branch and Miles Burris. It's hard enough having all of the new guys learn a new defense, let alone making everyone on your defense do it.
So why then, did the Raiders go out and get so many linebackers? Allen had an answer for that as well.
"When you look at the team, you got to develop depth across the team," Allen continued. "Fortunately for us, we feel good about the linebacker situation and when you really look at it, the quickest way we’re going to help this football team is improving special teams. That’s a big part of it. The linebackers, the secondary, the tight ends, those are all areas that we can improve our football team through special teams."
The Raiders had needs all over the defense. While they could have addressed many of those needs, when you think about it, they are not over burdened with linebackers. Right now, they have four guys who should legitimately push for the three starting spots and a couple of guys who will make for solid depth and be contributors in special teams. Moving to a 4-3 defense would actually stretch the linebacking corps thin by taking away depth.
Regardless of what the base defensive set is, Dennis Allen has some toys to play with in this linebacking corps. After a year of terrible defensive play in 2012, Raiders fans should be looking forward to what Dennis Allen can do with some good talent on his roster. He is, after all, supposed to be a defensive genius.