No sooner did the Raiders plane touch down in London, but they learned that starting middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict would be turning around and heading back home. He had been suspended for the rest of the season for a lowering his helmet into Colts tight end Jack Doyle.
Many of the players were probably waking up from having slept on the long flight over to the news they would be without their middle linebacker the rest of the season. None reacted more vitriolic than fellow linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
This is straight bullshit. No way that hit calls for that. This shit is getting out of hand. https://t.co/CAuZN324sR— Tahir Whitehead (@Big_Tah47) September 30, 2019
“This is straight bullshit.” Whitehead said in a tweet. “No way that hit calls for that. This shit is getting out of hand.”
Whitehead has had a chance to sleep on it a couple times since, but his stance has not changed. Perhaps only his language in describing it.
“Obviously it’s extremely disappointing for me,” Whitehead said of the loss of Burfict. “Haven’t known him long prior to coming to the team, but in a short period of time we’ve gotten really close and he’s become really like my brother. Just understanding and knowing how hard he worked, with the perception that was out there about him, how hard he worked to not be that guy.”
Most figured Burfict was facing some form of suspension due to this being his 14th personal foul offense and having been suspended twice before. The real stunner came in the length of the suspension. The rest of the season is a long time. Longest ever such suspension. Derek Carr vocalized the feeling of most, saying he thought the season ending suspension was “excessive.”
Jon Gruden was quite clear in his response to the loss of Burfict, saying “It hurts our team really bad.” There is no time to stop and lick their wounds, though. They must make try and make it work.
In the game last Sunday, it was Whitehead who quickly moved over from his strong side linebacker spot to assume the middle linebacker job in place of Burfict.
That may continue going forward as well. Whitehead played the middle linebacker spot quite a few times last season after the experiment with veteran LB Derrick Johnson didn’t work out. He had played middle linebacker quite a bit during his six seasons in Detroit as well. So, it’s not a huge stretch for him to move over.
“I feel extremely confident,” Whitehead said of playing middle linebacker. “It was something I had to do last year, It’s something I’ve had to do pretty much my whole career, having the green dot and making sure I get everyone lined up, getting the checks and the calls and everything, so there’s no added stress. I’m comfortable doing that and getting the calls executed. It’s just a matter of making sure that the guys that we have playing that we’re getting everyone on the same page.”
It’s hard to say whether the Raiders will consider adding a linebacker during the bye week to play the middle linebacker spot or just stick with Whitehead. Should they do so, the two logical candidates would be Jason Cabinda and Brandon Marshall as both spent the offseason with the team so they know the scheme. Cabinda in particular played some middle linebacker last season for the Raiders.
They can cross that bridge at that time. For now, it’s Whitehead’s job and he has three days to try and keep the switch from being too much of a downgrade from the guy who knew this defense better than anyone not named Paul Guenther.