In using the 4-3 defense, the Oakland linebacker unit was going to be relied upon heavily, especially considering the departure of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha left the secondary a bit more raw than in had been in previous seasons.
Led by Rolando McClain, Quentin Groves and Kameron Wimbley, the Raiders expected these two talented defenders to provide the depth and versatility needed to complement the front four. Though the linebackers were probably the most consistently adequate facet of the team’s defense, their overall expectations proved to be somewhat unmet.
Groves actually was replaced midseason by Aaron Curry, previously a disappointment with the Seattle Seahawks. Curry filled in nicely, gathering 46 tackles in 11 games. However, he did not have a single sack, the result of finding himself in pass coverage more often than blitzing.
Then there’s McClain, the second-year player out of Alabama. After a somewhat mediocre rookie year, McClain looked to take the next step to being a solid overall contributor.
For the most part, he did just that. He finished the 2011 campaign with 5.0 sacks, 99 tackles and 13 passes defended in 15 games. His play on the field was generally impressive. But his off-field antics left the organization incredibly disappointed, as he was arrested for brandishing a loaded gun and firing it in public.
The best player among the linebacking corps was Wimbley; and he was probably the most reliable all-around member of Oakland’s defense. Wimbley proved to be multi-purpose, finishing with 63 tackles, including seven sacks (second on the team) and seven tackles for losses. He also collected one interception.
Overall, Oakland’s linebackers were decently solid, and without their modest performance, the defense would have been a lot worse. However, on the whole, the linebackers were unable to help stop the run, and their weak pass-coverage play allowed those same running backs to excel in the passing game, catching a multitude of passes over the middle.
If the Raiders are indeed considering opting toward the 3-4 defense next season, the linebacking unit will likely be revamped in order to accommodate the new schematics. Though they performed admirably in 2011, it’s possible big changes will be on the horizon this offseason.