Once the Oakland Raiders parted ways with troubled middle linebacker Rolando McClain, it opened a huge need. After taking McClain eighth overall in 2010, the Raiders thought they had a player to man the middle for double digit years. Things did not work out that way, so the Raiders brought in a group of new linebackers this offseason.
Looking forward to training camp at the end of the month, it will be very interesting to see how the Raiders organize their linebacking corps. They have five linebackers for three positions. The team wants to move to multiple defensive schemes, utilizing both 4-3 and 3-4 packages. However, that takes a serious commitment and the Raiders have many areas of the defense to improve; integrating all the new faces being first on the list. The defensive coaching staff along with head coach Dennis Allen will be responsible for having the team prepared enough to use the 3-4 scheme situationally, but the 4-3 will again be Oakland's base defense.
With the base defense remaining a 4-3, the Raiders will have some serious competition for those three spots. The team has five candidates to start at linebacker. Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett, and Kaluka Maiava were all brought in via free agency to join starting weak-side linebacker Miles Burris and 2013 third round NFL Draft selection Sio Moore. That is a very nice problem to have for the Raiders because last season they had zero linebacker depth. Training camp will determine the outcomes of which linebackers play where and which linebackers earned starting spots.
Despite the Raiders having a void at middle linebacker, general manager Reggie McKenzie did not bring in a true middle linebacker this offseason. Nick Roach has played middle linebacker at times for the Chicago Bears, but was best at his natural strong side spot. Because he has established himself as a leader during OTAs and mini-camp, it appears Roach is the favorite to start in the middle.
The Raiders have another scenario that could play out at middle linebacker. Miles Burris has missed all the team's workouts this offseason as he recovers from knee surgery. Free agent signee Kevin Burnett was brought in to play that weak-side spot. He started every game the last two seasons for Miami and accounted for more than 100 tackles in each. A solid training camp will solidify his starting outside linebacker spot and leave Burris looking for playing time. That means the Raiders could move Burris inside to middle linebacker where his strength and effort could be more suited.
The team also could move Kaluka Maiava from strong side to middle and keep Roach on the outside. Maiava is another linebacker signed during free agency. He is a natural strong side and started 13 games for Cleveland in 2012 at that position.
Training camp will go a long way in clearing up the linebacker position. With solid guys competing for three spots, this is a position to keep an eye on. It will be up to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Allen to find the best combination to make the defense better. However, they will also be tasked with finding way to get their best players on the field. That will mean finding opportunities for the two linebackers that don't earn the starting spots.
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