How Kaluka Maiava Will Fill Philip Wheeler's Void
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The Oakland Raiders are trying to completely rebuild a defense that was ranked 28th in points allowed in 2012 and lost two starters to free agency. General manager Reggie McKenzie has signed a trio of linebackers to try to strengthen one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.
The biggest loss this offseason was free-agent linebacker Philip Wheeler, who came to Oakland on a one-year deal last season and became one of the team’s best defenders. Wheeler replaced pass-rushing linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and became a versatile linebacker capable of stopping the run, dropping into coverage, blitzing and calling the defensive plays.
Kaluka Maiava is one of the options McKenzie brought in to replace Wheeler, but he was only a part-time linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 2012. Maiava was rarely asked to drop into pass coverage, which means he’ll have to prove himself in that area to stay on the field in nickel situations.
Primarily Maiava covered backs and tight ends running flat patterns. Like many linebackers, Maiava wasn’t asked to turn his hips and run down a seam or cover a tight end man-to-man. Wheeler was a little more versatile because he could drop into deeper zones and was actually capable of covering some tight ends man-to-man.
On one play in Week 1, Maiava got his hands on the tight end just as he made his break. The little shove may have disrupted the pattern just enough to pull the tight end off his mark. The pass would end up being behind the tight end, which was either a poor throw or a product of Maiava’s contact.
Maiava has the ability to shed blocks and get around bigger blockers in order to sniff out running plays. The Redskins were trying to run off the clock late in a Week 15 win over the Browns when Maiava showed off his ability to get off a block and stop the run.
On one particular play in Week 1 against the Eagles, LeSean McCoy spins off of Maiava’s tackle. Maiava came on a blitz off the edge, slipped the block of the motioning tight end and had the opportunity to stuff McCoy for a loss, but couldn’t make the play. However, Maiava showed off another trait that likely attracted the Raiders—hustle.
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