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Raiders finally have real competition at linebacker

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Levi Damien

It's been a slim couple years for the Raiders since the new regime came in and began attempting to fix things. Most positions have seen an overhaul but many are still a work in progress. The linebacker position in particular may just be the closest thing the Raiders have to being what they hoped to have.

Last season, it was one of the few steady positions with Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett, and Sio Moore starting all season. But the lack of depth began to show late in the season and the defense folded in historic fashion. That can't be attributed solely to the linebackers, of course, but they were definitely part of the collapse.

Now, the Raiders suddenly find themselves with a pretty decent looking group with three players on the field who weren't part of the rotation most if not all of last season.

They drafted Khalil Mack at fifth overall to play on the strong side, and get Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris back from injury to bulk up the middle and weak side respectively. They now potentially have starters and backups at all three linebacker positions.

Miles Burris in particular was taking first team reps in place of Sio Moore on the weak side in minicamps. His emergence is the latest positive sign for this unit as a whole. He has earned his reps by knowing his assignments and he has also bulked up to help improve his tackling and shedding blocks.

Raiders defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver - a former linebackers coach - is pretty excited these days about the possibilities of this unit.

"All our linebackers are battling," said Tarver. "We have competition in the building at that position for the first time since we've been here, real competition. What that means is, not only for the roster, but for who's going to start."

Aside from a lack of depth the past two seasons, the Raiders had no options for the starting lineup. They had starters and no one to challenge them to find the best player to put on the field.

It was the same situation as in 2012. They had to put their hopes on Rolando McClain to pull his head out of his backside and step up as a leader at middle linebacker. That didn't work out. Aaron Curry was the incumbent starter on the weak side but he could never recover from knee injury problems, forcing them to throw fourth round compensatory pick Miles Burris out there as a rookie.

About the only overall solid play they got from the linebacker spot was Philip Wheeler who took over on-field play-calling duties for McClain five games into the season. But he was on a one-year deal and left to sign a big contract in Miami. With McClain a lost cause, and Burris not recovered from an off-season knee surgery, they had to start all over again.

Starting over again has been a recurring theme around Oakland the past couple seasons. Now for the first time, they can actually build upon what they began constructing the season before.

Maiava and Burris have been mostly forgotten up to this point. Their re-introduction into the lineup is not unlike adding a free agent or an extra draft pick. It's like found money. While the talk has been about the new faces, these two old faces may prove just as important to the puzzle. No starting job is guaranteed and all positions have a rotation.

It's about depth, it's about competition, and it's about time.