Two weeks into training camp, the Las Vegas Raiders made an interesting defensive wrinkle as rookie pass-rusher Malcolm Koonce practiced for the first time at outside linebacker.
#Raiders rookie Malcolm Koonce: "Today was my first day playing linebacker. I'm going to get in where fit in...and help the team."— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) August 10, 2021
Let’s look at what it may mean:
Opportunity at linebacker:
The Raiders are looking for the right mix at linebacker. While the Raiders will be in the nickel a lot, but right now, the top of their depth chart has 2020 third-round pick Tanner Muse at strongside linebacker when the Raiders are in a 4-3 defensive alignment. That is the spot Koonce worked at on Tuesday.
I wouldn’t necessarily say Koonce and Muse are competing for the same spot. They will both have varied roles but throwing Koonce into the linebacker mix can help with depth there and could allow the Raiders to do different things down the line.
Busy at defensive end?
Maybe the Raiders feel good about having Koonce work because they like their depth at defensive end and feel like they can use Koonce at another spot. They have Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell, Carl Nassib and Matt Dickerson. Defensive tackles Solomon Thomas can also swing out to the outside in pass-rushing situations.
This is tinker time:
This is what training camp is all about. It’s the time to see where young players best thrive at exactly what spots. I don’t think this is a big surprise.
It will be interesting to see where Koonce practices and plays in the preseason and in the two-day scrimmage against the Rams. I would at this point assume Koonce will practice at both defensive end and outside linebacker. His main gig is as a pass-rusher and that can be accomplished from both spots. New Las Vegas defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense is all about matchups and game situations.
So moving around Koonce as the game indicates plays into what Bradley wants to do, but I wouldn’t get too caught up on what spot he is playing out of. Remember, Khalil Mack played both spots for the Raiders during his time there. As long as Koonce can get to the quarterback, it doesn’t matter where he lines up.