Under Jack Del Rio, the Raiders could solve their glaring holes at linebacker. Drafting Khalil Mack and signing Bruce Irvin remain the bright linebacker moves of the McKenzie Era. Yet, we all figured that Mack and Irvin would up end up on the defensive line. In return, Oakland started the offseason with glaring holes at linebacker. Through drafting and free agency, the Raiders grabbed what linebackers they felt would help them. FPC Raiders writers Aspuria, Biggs, and Simmons detail who the three starters should be.
Derrick Johnson will operate the middle with Emmanuel Lamur and Tahir Whitehead flanking him on the outside. Johnson offers superior coverage skills over second-year man Marquel Lee while Whitehead is a tackling machine (who is not renowned for cover skills). Lamur earns the starting nod based on familiarity with Paul Guenther’s scheme. That does not mean Nicholas Morrow will not get snaps. His athleticism is something Guenther covets.
When the Raiders signed Derrick Johnson, they proved again that middle linebacker should be a stopgap. Although Johnson still possesses the ability to still cover ground, this feels like a one-year rental. On the outside, Tahir Whitehead could give the Raiders a strong run-stopper on the perimeter. In coverage, Whitehead does not flow well enough to the ball. However, if can provide solid tackling, the Raiders can live with everything else. On the other side, this feels like Nicholas Morrow’s job to lose. By and large,Morrow gives the Raiders an athletic linebacker that should run with most backs and tight ends. As we all know, covering the tight ends needs to finally occur.
I think Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead take the middle and strong side positions respectively. Their experience should make it far too difficult for any of the younger players to take their slots. The weak side is anybody’s guess, as it could be Obi Melifonwu or Nicholas Morrow or any number of players. The goal would be to have a player who does not explicitly have to come off the field on passing downs, as Whitehead is not a cover player. If the Raiders can figure out the weakside, the defense should be much less exposed on middle distance third downs.
Given these points, the Raiders should see a small upgrade in performance. Provided that each player stays within himself.