Starters: Derrick Johnson, Tahir Whitehead, Emmanuel Lamur
Backups: Kyle Wilber, Nicholas Morrow, Marquel Lee, Azeem Victor, James Cowser, Jason Cabinda
Just when you think the Raiders FINALLY found their middle linebacker, they don’t bring him back. They couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract with NaVorro Bowman, so instead the Raiders signed 35-year-old Derrick Johnson to a cost friendly one-year deal. And here we are again with major question marks at the position.
Arguably the best signing the team made was the addition of Tahir Whitehead. He takes over at strong side linebacker with Bruce Irvin moving to defensive end full time.
On the weak side currently getting first team reps is Lamur, who followed his former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to Oakland. Lamur’s familiarity with Guenther’s system may have him first team right now, but it’s not for sure he will be the starter. After all, he’s only started 15 games in his five-year NFL career and didn’t start a game for the Vikings last season.
Getting some good reps as well is Kyle Wilber, who has been primarily a special teams guy in his six NFL seasons with the Cowboys. He has started just one game the past two seasons.
Late last season Nicholas Morrow came on strong, but thus far he’s seen mostly second team work, even though Jon Gruden has spoken highly of him.
Each of the past two drafts, the Raiders have selected an inside linebacker on the third day. Last year it was Marquel Lee in the 5th and this year it’s Azeem Victor in the 6th. Lee is a run stopper who has been the primary backup to Johnson in the middle. Victor has seen limited work with the third and fourth team.
James Cowser moves to off ball linebacker from his defensive end spot. These kind of experiments rarely work, but if that’s his best chance of sticking, go for it. Cabinda is an undrafted rookie looking to distinguish himself.
Johnson is five years older than Bowman and a downgrade in most areas. If Johnson were still a valuable piece to an NFL club, the Chiefs, with whom he spent his entire 13-year career, would’ve had him back for another year. And there are still big question marks at weak side linebacker with two career backups seeing first team reps. Whitehead is a good signing, but it could simply be a lateral move from Irvin. He’s the only thing saving this unit from being on life support.
What condition do you think the Raiders linebacker position is in?
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