In looking at the Raiders new linebacker group, let us start with the Raiders middle linebacker. This position has been one where the Raiders have not found any stability. As a result, cycled through a host of names at linebacker, expect the Raiders to look to give this group some stability. This year, they bring in two new starters in Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead. Once a star, Johnson is likely a stopgap at this point in his career. With that said let’s break down some of the noteworthy names from this group.
Derrick Johnson flew all over the field for the defense. While he is getting long in the tooth, it cannot be disputed the aging veteran can still play. Yesterday, the Raiders used him in a variety of ways. From dropping into coverage and even letting him get in on blitzes, the vet flashed. Johnson left some tackles on the field, coming just short on long run by Denver’s back Phillip Lindsey. Moreover, he pulled back on another run where he should have drilled him. Nevertheless, Johnson is the best middle linebacker this Raiders team employed in some time. He certainly gives them more than Navarro Bowman does. Bowman struggled in coverage last season. However, the question still looms as to how the Raiders will address the position long-term.
While it remains to be seen if Marquel Lee will end up developing into a solid middle linebacker. Lee jumped into the fray on Sunday. Combined with Tahir Whitehead to keep Freeman from converting a third and goal on the one-yard line for a touchdown. Unfortunately, Case Keenum scored on the next play. Initially, Lee looks solid for the Raiders. Still, is he the heir apparent to Johnson? That will be a question for the Raiders, as they will have the chance to draft an elite middle linebacker in LSU’s Devin White.
At outside linebacker, the Raiders signed Tahir Whitehead to a 3-year, 18-million-dollar deal. Whitehead gives the Raiders versatility. The former Lion is comfortable playing inside and outside. The Raiders expect Whitehead to give them some stability at outside linebacker for the next three seasons. Although it would not surprise me if Gruden looks to draft someone for Guenther to groom behind Whitehead. Overall, Whitehead is a solid starter at outside linebacker. This Raiders team still needs an infusion of talent throughout their roster. He missed some tackles on Sunday, which may concern the Raiders, as it was an issue for Whitehead in Detroit.
Morrow remains undersized at 6’0 224 lbs, but he is the most intriguing player Oakland has at linebacker, now. Morrow flashed throughout last season showing off rare athleticism at linebacker as a tweener. Morrow has already shown he can be an asset in coverage, and he fits the profile of a modern linebacker to the T. Morrow will have to prove himself, but he could help the Raiders who have struggled with opposing tight ends in coverage.
Unfortunately, Morrow has not seen much action for Oakland this season as veteran Emmanuel Lamur’s familiarity with Guenther’s system has given him an edge in beating out Morrow.
While this linebacker group is better than the group that the Raiders fielded last season, finding the heir to Johnson should be a priority. Oakland has a few people who flashed ability. Yet, they lack any special talents at linebacker. They should draft at least another linebacker come April, as it is already looking like this year’s draft will have some serious talent at the position. Fans should expect this group to develop into a solid unit under new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. If we are being honest, that has more to do with his ability as a coordinator than this group’s talents.