There were several surprises to the Raiders 53-man roster when it was released just a few days ago. Fans were up in arms to see that the team would be carrying three quarterbacks, training camp standouts Keelan Doss and Anthony Rush (Rush later signed on with the practice squad) were waived, and the roster included only four linebackers.
Considering the Raiders play a 4-3 base defense, only carrying four linebackers seems risky. But the league is changing. As the rules have been modified it has favored the offense and the passing game. We are seeing quarterbacks throw for 4,000 yards and 30 plus touchdowns in a season on a regular basis, when years ago that was the gold standard.
Because of this, defenses are spending more time with five defensive backs and only two linebackers on the field. Jon Gruden has taken notice and has adapted his roster to keep up with the offensive trends throughout the league.
“We played a lot of nickel last year,” said Gruden. “Everybody is playing more nickel now than before. We’re kind of built to be a nickel defense. We’re also carrying some big bodies that will help us if we have to play big ball.”
Kyle Wilber was added to the roster this week to give the group another body but Wilber is primarily a special teams contributor. With only five linebackers on the roster the Raiders will be forced to do more with less, meaning guys like Nicholas Morrow will need to step up.
“We like Nick, man. I think Nick is on the rise,” Gruden added. “He’s good in coverage. He’s quietly moving up the ranks in this league and in this organization. He’s certainly the next guy up and we don’t hesitate to put him in a game at all.”
As of yesterday when the most recent depth chart was released, it is Morrow who is slated to not only be put in a game but to start at Will linebacker alongside Tahir Whitehead (Sam) and Vontaze Burfict (Mike).
“He just makes plays,” Gruden said of Morrow. “His instincts in finding the ball is really good. He’s a good blitzer. He’s extremely athletic. He’s comfortable in space. Good one-on-one tackler. He’s a better tackler than you’d think. He plays a lot bigger than he looks.”
The undrafted free agent out of division III Greenville University, earned the starting job in Oakland late last season and hasn’t looked back. Morrow has earned himself the opportunity of a lifetime.