One of the more surprising developments of Raiders minicamp this week was the emergence of Miles Burris who jumped ahead of standout second year player, Sio Moore, to take first team reps on the weak side.
After having the starting job fall in his lap as a rookie, Burris had become somewhat of a forgotten man. One of those "What ever happened with that guy?" types of players. He had surgery on an injured knee following his rookie campaign and what was not supposed to be a long rehab process turned out to be considerable longer than anyone expected.
Burris ended up missing all of training camp last year and was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He wasn't activated last season until week 11 and played a reserve role and on special teams.
With the emergence of rookie Sio Moore, and the additions of Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach, Burris was buried on the depth chart, barely seeing the field, let alone making any kind of impact.
While Moore went on to be named to the NFL All Rookie first team, no one was talking about Burris.
Come OTA's, Moore had been switched to the weak side to make room for rookie fifth overall pick, Khalil Mack on the strong side. This seemed like a natural move considering the skill set of Mack and the fact that Moore played weak side backer in college.
Fast forward to minicamp and suddenly Sio is not in the lineup with the first team and the forgotten man Miles was suddenly back in the spotlight.
So, how did this happen? As Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver explains it, Sio Moore is currently a bit behind on the learning curve making the switch from the strong side to the weak side.
"There's a few things that he doesn't know," Tarver said of Moore. "He's gotten better, he's had a little bit of up-and-down in these practices, but that's because he hasn't seen things from that position, but today was pretty good. The second practice today was pretty good. We need him to keep progressing. He needs to stay in the moment and he needs to learn from some of these guys we brought in you're supposed to go one play at a time and regardless of what happens around you, go to the next play."
On the flip side of that, Dennis Allen said Burris has improved leaps and bounds from his performance as a rookie, which though he started all season, he had some glaring tackling deficiencies. Then to go through a season with an injury stunted his ability to improve upon that season.
"I think he's further ahead than what he was two years ago," Allen said of Burris. "Two years ago he was a rookie at this point in time and really kind of struggling to find his way a little bit. He's got two years in the system, and he's continued to work extremely hard to get better as a football player. I think any time you have players that have athletic ability, have football instincts and work as hard as he does, they find a way to get on the field and they find a way to make plays, and that's what we're looking for. We're looking for guys that love football, that want to work, guys that are going to put the team first, and if you do that, you'll find a way to get on the field."
"Mentally that was one of the toughest things that I've been through," said Burris. "One of the darkest years of my life . . . I never missed a game in my life and I've been playing since fifth grade. But it taught me some great things and the lord taught me some patience through it. Overall it's gonna be a great blessing in my life, I know it."
"I feel as good as I ever have. Even better than then."
Coach Tarver shared a similar excitement at the progress of his young linebacker, Burris who was the first defensive player drafted by the new regime.
"I'm pleased with Miles," Tarver continued. "Can't wait to see him in pads, he's really pushing. . . Miles tries to be exactly right and Miles tries to be physical, and he is both of those things. He played well as a rookie and we would have loved to obviously have him last year, but we're excited about where he is and where he's going."
This shouldn't in any way diminish what Sio Moore accomplished last season or what he is capable of accomplishing. The coaches are counting on Sio thriving off competition and putting in the work to reclaim his spot on the first team eventually.
In the mean time, it is a very good sign to see a healthy Burris on the field getting good reps. He has bulked up even since last season and certainly since his rookie season. He has been asked to be somewhat of a utility linebacker which could improve his chances of seeing the field this season. For that reason, Burris wouldn't nail down where the coaches plan on playing him.
"They really preach position versatility so I've been going out there and most days playing Sam, Mike and Wil and they want me to know them all just like they want everybody to know them all and be able to fill in where they're needed," said Burris.
If he can put that together with some improved skills, he should provide a good option for a Raiders' team who can use all the solid options they can get. Burris now jumps into the conversation where he had become an afterthought.