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Jon Gruden defends struggling Tahir Whitehead calling him ‘one heck of a linebacker’

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Gruden had high praise for his linebacker, but the numbers don’t warrant it.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Through eight games, the Raiders have given up more yards-per-play than any defense in NFL history. On a unit filled with disappointment and underachievement, linebacker Tahir Whitehead has stood out, and not in an encouraging way.

The seven-year veteran has been the league’s worst coverage linebacker by a wide margin. Whitehead has been targeted almost 30 times and has allowed a perfect passer rating of 158.3 to opposing quarterbacks according to Pro Football Focus.

To put that into perspective, there have been 612 instances since 2006 when a linebacker has been targeted more than 20 times through the first eight weeks of a season, Whitehead is the only one to allow a perfect passer rating.

Just don’t tell that to Raiders head coach Jon Gruden.

“30-for-30. Sounds like a television show or something,” Gruden joked Friday when told of the PFF numbers. “You know what, he’s been a good linebacker. He’s been a good nickel linebacker in the league for a long time. I think when you look at the kind of throws that have been complete, you have to sometimes take a look at them. Are they quick screens? Are they screen passes?”

Throughout an offseason filled with the acquisition of older veterans to short-term deals, Whitehead was the exception. At just 28 years old, and coming off a solid season with the Detroit Lions in which he was the NFL’s 12th best linebacker against the run, Whitehead was widely viewed as one of Gruden’s best signings.

Midway through the season, the narrative has completely flipped as Whitehead ranks 48th in run defense grade.

Despite what the numbers show, Gruden remains steadfast in support of his linebacker.

“If you’re listening, Tahir, I think you’re one heck of a linebacker.”