Oakland Raiders: Why Miles Burris Will Win Starting Job at Weakside Linebacker
With final preseason games soon underway, many roster spots around the league are locked in or still up for grabs. With not much time left, coaches will use the final preseason game as well as final practices to determine final roster spots.
One of the more competitive competitions coming out of northern California is the battle between linebackers on the Raiders' defense. With a new defensive coordinator in Jason Tarver, the Raiders have almost a new-look defense, getting rid of three cornerbacks and also linebacker Kamerion Wimbley.
Providing Rolando McClain can avoid spending time in jail, McClain and Phillip Wheeler are most likely locks for the middle and strongside linebacker spots, leaving the weakside up for grabs.
Here is why fourth-round pick out of San Diego State, Miles Burris, will win the starting job at weakside linebacker.
1. Health of Aaron Curry
A former No. 4 overall pick back in 2009, Curry never lived up to his draft hype in Seattle. Winning the Butkus Award as a senior at Wake Forest, Curry entered the draft as an athletic freak, but he never developed in the NFL.
Playing nine games for the Raiders last season, Curry played better than he did with the Seahawks. He finished with 49 tackles, and was the favorite to win the weakside linebacker starting job heading into the 2012 season.
Unfortunately for Curry, injuries in both knees caused him to start camp on the physically unable to perform list, allowing Burris to get more reps during practice.
According to a report by Sports Illustrated, "Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen says linebacker Aaron Curry is running out of time to get back on the practice field from his injured knees in time to start the season opener."
Head coach Dennis Allen also said in the same report that "he won't be taken off until he [Curry] is able to change directions at full speed."
If Curry is listed on the PUP list at the start of the season he will be forced to sit out the first six games, healthy or not.
This has opened the door for Miles Burris to start in Curry's absence, as they can only wait for him to get healthy.
2. First-Team Reps
As a rookie, a bit of erratic play is sometimes expected. However, Burris has been given many reps with the first team, in hopes that he can eliminate some of the young mistakes he has been making.
Head coach Dennis Allen had this to say about the rookie linebacker:
"Every day he goes out there is still a growth process for him. The good thing is you can see improvement and correcting some of the things he might have made a mistake on before. He gets them corrected. He still has a long way to go. I'm hoping to see a little bit more consistency out of him." (Via SilverAndBlackPride.com)
By taking first-team reps in practice, as well as logging in a lot of minutes during the preseason, Burris will only gain valuable experience as he looks to get more comfortable with the defensive scheme.
3. Coach's Praise
First-year head coach Dennis Allen has had high praise for Burris. Although Allen has admitted that Burris does make rookie mistakes, multiple reports have showed the new Raiders head coach and his coaching staff have been impressed thus far in Burris' improvements.
After the Raiders 31-20 preseason victory over the Detroit Lions, Allen had this to say about his potential starting linebacker:
"He made some nice strides. He made a real nice tackle there in the second half. Every time Miles gets a chance to get out there, it’s another opportunity for him to grow. So the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to be.”
According to SFGate.com, Allen is also on the record as called Burris an "instinctive football player" and also "smart."
Still a work in progress, Burris must start making big plays, as well as limit his mistakes if he wants to play for this defense.
With an intense, urgent playing style, you can really stick Burris on any part of the middle of the defense. His high motor allows him to play either strongside, middle or weakside linebacker.
Even back in college at San Diego State, Burris was utilized all around the field on defense.
NFL Films senior producer Gregg Cosell is on record saying
"He's a diamond in the rough," Cosell said. "I kept struggling with where he might play in the NFL, because he kind of moved all over San Diego State's defense. I thought he might even be able to play middle linebacker in the NFL."
His versatility may become more important depending on teammate Rolando McClain's trial hearing.
McClain currently faces charges including assault, reckless endangerment, menacing, and unlawful discharge of a firearm. McClain was sentenced to 180 days in prison, but has appealed for a trial hearing.
Depending on when the trial is set for, and the verdict, the Raiders may even consider moving Burris over to the middle.
5. Impressed More Than Chad Kilgore
Heading into camp, with Aaron Curry sidelined with injury it was expected that Miles Burris would have to compete with undrafted rookie Chad Kilgore.
Burris was known for his great hustle and high motor at San Diego State, and has shown nothing less during the preseason and practices.
Writers and scouts have also been buzzing about Burris' potential, which may have given him an edge over Kilgore during camp.
According to ESPN's Bill Williamson, who covers the AFC West, he writes that, "the team is impressed with rookie linebackers Miles Burris... [he] is instinctive and professional. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burris earns major playing time."
Although his competition, Chad Kilgore, also has a high motor, he is not as as athletic as Burris and also has not impressed coaches as much as the fourth-round pick.
As they enter their fourth preseason game, it seems that it is Burris' job to lose, as he has been listed above Kilgore on the depth chart for the majority of preseason and camp.