If you have been following this series, you'll remember a statement I made in Part-3. I said the defensive line was the most difficult position to predict. Do you remember that? Yeah, well...I lied!
The linebacker corps for the Raiders is deeper and more convoluted than I can remember in recent history. There's just one of the three positions that seems to be relatively clear cut, and that is the middle or "Mike" position.
There are 10 players listed as linebackers on the Raider's official roster at this moment. There are at most seven spots on the team, only three of which will be called starters.
In this slide show I will do something similar to what I did in Part-3. I will offer more than one option that Raider fans could see come opening day. I do not expect to be 100% correct. I would consider getting half of this right a huge success!
Let's get on with it then...
All rumblings from camp, and all the sound bites from Head Coach Tom Cable are alluding to Kamerion Wimbley being the starter on the weak side come opening day. But, in true Al Davis, Raider fashion, no one is saying anything for sure.
Wimbley is not a very good cover linebacker. This is part of the reason the Browns let him be traded to the Raiders. All the film I've studied on Wimbley suggests he is going to be a pretty big liability in coverage.
That said, the Raiders now possess the depth at outside linebacker to have the luxury of substituting quality players in depending upon the situation. I'd look for Wimbley to get the majority of his time at "Will" backer. He may also play some with his hand on the ground as a pass rushing specialist.
So, who comes in for Wimbley in those situations? My best guess would be Trevor Scott or Ricky Brown, although neither of them have impressed me with their coverage skills. That said, coach Cable has made it clear that Scott will get significant time at linebacker, despite him still being listed as a defensive end on the roster.
There is also some nice young talent that could see time at this spot on passing downs. Rookie Travis Goethel and second year player David Nixon may also contribute in passing situations, but I kind of doubt it.
Remember, this is only one option.
There isn't a lot of doubt about who the Raiders will start at the "Mike" or middle linebacker spot. Al Davis didn't draft Rolando McClain eighth overall to sit on the bench! He's going to play!
Donning the number 55, McClain is certain to do Raider great Matt Millen proud with his play, leadership, and tenacity.
But who will back him up?
For the answer to that, you need only to look to last season and realize that Kirk Morrison's back-up is still on the team. Isaiah Ekejiuba will remain on the team as McClain's understudy.
Beyond that it's anyone's guess. It's possible that Slade Norris will provide some depth in the middle, but I don't project him to get much playing time—if any.
With the departure of Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard is the best cover linebacker left on the Raider's roster. He is the only backer on the roster I would trust to cover tight ends and running backs man-to-man. And truthfully, I don't trust him that much.
Howard is a solid tackler that doesn't miss many opportunities in the open field. I look for Howard to be another year wiser, and another year better.
Backing him up will most likely be newly acquired Quentin Groves and Raider veteran Sam Williams. This does not inspire a lot of optimism in me, but I don't get to see them in practice every day. I'm hoping that the coaching staff sees something that we as fans don't.
Defensive coordinator John Marshall and linebackers coach Mike Haluchak have their work cut out for them to bring together a lot of diverse talent into one cohesive unit of linebackers.
If I have it right with option one, it will look like this:
WLB: Kamerion Wimbley-Ricky Brown-Travis Goethel-David Nixon
MLB: Rolando McClain-Isaiah Ekejiuba-Slade Norris
SLB: Thomas Howard-Quentin Groves-Sam Williams
Again, this is just one of about a trillion options, but would be a solid line up for running downs.
Now, on to option two...
This would not be my first choice. I've stated repeatedly that I really don't think Trevor Scott will make a very good linebacker. I know I'm alone on this for the most part, but I really think that he should remain with his hand in the ground as a defensive end.
The experiment of converting defensive ends to outside linebacker fails more often than it succeeds. Not all defensive ends are named DeMarcus Ware! Still, there is a lot of talk about Scott playing more at linebacker than at his natural defensive end.
If this does end up being the line up, I would consider Scott and Kamerion Wimbley as 1a and 1b. They would each get significant playing time in this configuration.
No change here. McClain was drafted to be the starter, and the starter he will be! Regardless of what configuration the coaching staff chooses to go with, No. 55 will be in the middle of it!
No change at the back up spot either. Look for Ekejiuba and Norris to provide depth behind the highly touted rookie McClain.
Another player that is going to be converted from defensive end to linebacker. Quentin Groves is a little more suited to make this switch than Trevor Scott because he's more of a smooth athlete and quite a bit quicker in close quarters.
I'm still not crazy about this idea.
Personally, I'd rather see Thomas Howard at this spot permanently, but I'm not on the staff that gets to make these decisions. Therefore, I'm just offering this up as an option.
If this does become an option, look for Groves and Howard to operate similar to how I described Scott and Wimbley, as a 1a and 1b with both of them getting significant time depending upon the situation.
Once again, linebackers coach Mike Haluchak has some tough decisions to make. A ton of talent and only three starting spots. I don't envy the pressure he must be under.
If he chooses to go with option two, it will look like this:
WLB: Trevor Scott-Kamerion Wimbley-Travis Goethel-David Nixon
MLB: Rolando McClain-Isaiah Ekejiuba-Slade Norris
SLB: Quentin Groves-Thomas Howard-Sam Williams
I'm not sure how I feel about this, but it is an option nonetheless.
Let me be clear. I do not expect to be right about all these predictions. I am only confident about one of the positions listed in this slide show and that is Roland McClain in the middle linebacker spot.
Other than that, I have no idea. I know what I would do if it were up to me, but it isn't. It's up to coaches Cable, Marshall, Haluchak, and of course, owner Al Davis.
Keep in mind that most teams rarely carry more than eight linebackers on their final 53 man roster. If the Raiders hold true to that, two of the 10 players in this slide show will be relegated to the practice squad or to find work elsewhere. If this happens, my guess on those two are David Nixon and Slade Norris.
So what do you say Raider Nation? How much do I have correct? How much is wrong? Is there another option out there that I haven't considered? Let me hear your voices!
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