The Oakland Raiders are very much a rebuilding football team. Nowhere is that more evident than at the linebacker position, where the Raiders are potentially looking at new starters at every position this year.
Among those newcomers to the Bay Area is a newcomer to the NFL. Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore, who racked up 72 tackles and 7.5 sacks for the Huskies in 2012, was Oakland's third-round pick in last month's NFL draft.
Moore, who was a first team All-Big East performer a season ago, moved around the formation quite a bit at UConn. According to Jenny Vrentas of The Newark Star-Ledger, Moore feels that versatility will serve him well in the NFL:
I've played every position on the field besides cornerback, legit. That’s why I really feel like I am the best linebacker in this class, because I can do everything on the field needed for a linebacker to do, plus more, and aside from that my work ethic and my character, who I am as a person.
Moore's confidence will serve him just as well as his versatility, because Oakland can use all the help they can get at linebacker.
Of the Raiders' starters at linebacker in 2012, only weak side man Miles Burris remains, and Burris was the worst player at his position in the entire NFL a year ago according to Pro Football Focus.
The Raiders took steps to address the position before the draft, adding a trio of veteran linebackers in Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava, and Nick Roach.
The tentative plan before Moore was drafted appeared to be Roach in the middle, Burnett on the weak side (where he played in Miami last year) and Maiava at strong-side linebacker.
However, the addition of Moore would seem to muddy the waters considerably, and it begs the question of how the Raiders can best allocate their resources to maximize the talent on the roster at the linebacker spot.
In order to do that, it's probably wise to first examine how all these new additions performed last year according to Pro Football Focus.
There are a couple of things to be gleaned from this information. The first is that Burnett would seem entrenched as a starter, as he graded out favorably according to PFF and tallied more than 100 tackles last year for the Dolphins.
The second is that the easy answer to the question of what to do with Sio Moore is simple. Roach is the weak link in the chain. Insert Moore in his stead. Problem solved, right?
If only it were that simple.
For starters, in a 4-3 defense the middle linebacker is usually the player who makes the defensive calls, and slapping the "green dot" on Moore's helmet would be asking a lot of the youngster.
Second, Moore has shown an affinity for getting after the quarterback, and the Raiders can use all the help they can get in that regard. Lining up Moore at middle linebacker would negate much of his pass rushing skill, as he's going to have to sift through a lot more trash charging up the middle than off the edge.
That's what makes this such an interesting conundrum for Oakland, and one for which we may not know the answer for some time.
A lot is going to depend on how Moore performs in training camp and the preseason. Should he struggle in acclimating to the NFL, the veterans will all but surely start, with Moore working his way onto the field here and there in subpackages.
However, if Moore hits the ground running, the Raiders are going to have a decision to make.
Does Oakland put Moore in the middle, moving Roach to a fourth linebacker role to which he may be best suited, and risk squandering some badly needed pass rush help?
Or does Oakland consider putting Moore on the weak side, where he'd have an easier time rushing the passer, while kicking Burnett inside?
Frankly, we may not know the final answer to this question until well into the season, as it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Oakland tinker with different formations and personnel packages depending on their opponent and the situation.
It also wouldn't be surprising to see Moore occasionally play with his hand down, lining up at end in some obvious passing situations.
However, while we may not know at the moment how Sio Moore is going to fit in with the Raiders, there is at least one thing we do know.
Given the state of the Oakland linebackers a season ago, this is a nice problem for them to have.
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