There are a total of 60 new players on this Raiders team. That's two thirds of the roster. By now we have figured out that there is a common thread among those 60 players Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have added - they are all have something to prove - but I can say without a doubt none of them have a bigger chip on their shoulder than Kevin Burnett.
The former second round pick is entering his ninth season in the NFL and his fourth team. In the first four of those seasons - all in Dallas -- he started a total of 4 games. When he left the Cowboys and joined the Chargers, he saw the most starts he had in his career. He started 7 games in his first season there and all 16 games the following season.
So, by his sixth season in the league, he had finally shown enough to earn his place as the fulltime starter. Then he was not brought back.
He went to the Dolphins and started every game the past two seasons, raising his tackle numbers each the past three seasons including having over 100 tackles each of the past two. Then he was released. The team felt like they had found an upgrade with Raiders former linebacker, Philip Wheeler and Burnett was not in the plans.
So, it seems though he finally had become a fulltime starter, he still wasn't quite good enough. He was still a stopgap until something better came along. All throughout his career, he has struggled. Four years of toiling in obscurity, then four years of not ‘he'll do for now' and now at age 30, he must deal with the age question.
These fact have come together to create one enormous chip on his shoulder.
"People say, ‘Oh, he got this, he did this, he's sorry, he's this, he's that." Said Burnett. "My numbers have gone up every season, so...what's that a product of? You know, I've been on good football teams, had other people around me so it's not just that I'm on a sorry football team. The guy can play."
"The fact that I can do it all and the ability to play smart," Burnett said of his skill set. "Not a lot of football players play smart. Not a lot of players help themselves before the snap of the play and that's what I love about myself. Given the fact that everybody wants to say, ‘He's getting older,' or ‘He's this he's that. He sucks.' Whatever. I've had 200-tackle seasons back to back. So, it's all in the eye of the beholder."
Another common thread seems to be versatility. Jason Tarver does a lot of different things with this team's linebacking corps and Burnett can be found lining up at each outside linebacker position as well as inside linebacker at times. The changing alignments aside, the Raiders are severely depleted in camp due to injury. He is considered somewhat of a ‘jack of all trades" even if his critics might add 'master of none'.
"In this league, you've got to be able to play every position. You've got to be able to play sam, mike, will, strong safety, free safety, defensive end because on any given play they can say, ‘Flip it.' And then, when that happens, you gotta be able to run the defense. So, it helps to know where everybody's going, know what everybody's doing.
"Football is a game of versatility. It's built around how much you can do for your football team to help them win. So, it's not about what position you play because all that is, is a label. . . Football players put themselves in the best position to succeed. So do coaches. Now, it's about: what role am I going to fulfill on this particular play? What role am I going to ask this player to play at this particular point in time."
The unique position this NFL veteran is in compared to some of the other new Raiders is he has been a starter for three plus seasons. Most guys who feel like they have a lot to prove are unknowns or have toiled as a backup throughout their careers.
Burnett clearly needs no added incentive for him to play with a sense of urgency. But he can't speak for any of the other newly signed players on this team. Most of those players are on one-year deals (Burnett is on a two-year deal) and according to him, those deals were made with motivation in mind.
"If you look at the construction of this team, it's not by happenstance a lot of people are here on short-term deals," said Burnett. "See, what you do by doing that is you create a hungry football team. By creating a hungry football team, you're creating a team that plays with a sense of urgency, guys that are not complacent."
I would assume he doesn't include himself among that group which would need a short term deal to keep from being complacent. Disproving those who would slight or disrespect his abilities is clearly all the motivation he needs.