It gets tiresome after a while harping on the need at middle line backer for the Raiders. Every season of Reggie McKenzie’s tenure as Raiders GM they have entered the season with questions at the position. That’s a long time now and a growing list of failed half-hearted attempts.
The list of opening day middle linebacker starters since 2012 is a cringe-worthy one. Rolando McClain, Nick Roach, Miles Burris, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, and Marquel Lee.
Last season, second year former 5th rounder Ben Heeney started the season for two games and rookie sixth round pick Cory James took over for two games before they brought in veteran free agent Perry Riley for some stability at the position.
They didn’t bring back Riley for reasons unknown and they looked to replace him with the combo of 5th round rookie Marquel Lee and undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow.
They stuck with that rookie combo for six weeks and through a 4-game losing streak before NaVorro Bowman came available.
Bowman was signed on Monday and by Thursday he was named the starter. The move was made out of necessity, with both Lee and James inactive due to injuries. But Bowman stepped up and showed that even with just three practices on a new team, he was an upgrade.
“I studied, I put the hours in,” said Bowman. “I wasn’t supposed to play this many snaps but coaches asked me did I know certain things and I said ‘yeah’, told them exactly what I knew and what I had on those calls and they felt comfortable with leaving me in there and I really appreciate it.”
The former 4-time All Pro middle linebacker took the green dot helmet and led the defense. First and foremost, he led them as a veteran presence, something that has been sorely lacking. As the reigning Defensive Player of the Year understands.
“Just having the confidence,” Khalil Mack said of Bowman’s contribution. “Having the confidence in the man in the middle, calling the plays and everybody listening. Just the experience level, man, it’s very important and that’s what this defense needs.”
That’s a pretty clear message by Mack in light of the linebacking corps prior to Bowman’s arrival had a total of 2 starts and 16 games on defense coming into the season — all by Cory James. All others were rookie and first year players.
Bowman’s contribution came as more than just the defensive signal caller. The 29-year-old showed the talent made him the league’s top man in the middle for four seasons. Bowman would lead the team with 11 combined tackles (6 solo).
His efforts earned praise from head coach Jack Del Rio, who referred to Bowman as “As huntin’ dog”. I asked Bowman if he’s ever been called that before and what it means to him.
“I know what he means,” said Bowman of Del Rio’s words. “I’m a linebacker and to be a great one you have to be an assassin out there. You have to be quiet, you have to get low, and go hunting.”
Just imagine what he will be able to accomplish with another week of practices under his belt.