The Raiders came into this offseason with a major problem at linebacker. And we aren’t just talking about filling a hole at one position or an upgrade, this corps is in need of a complete overhaul.
There has been a gaping hole at strong side linebacker for so long that I think most people have just plain forgot the Raiders even had that position on the field. Which I guess in some ways, they didn’t. The Raiders have been essentially playing a 4-2 scheme.
The team drafted two line backers last year in round 4 pick Slade Norris and round 6 pick Stryker Sulak, but neither of them made the team out of camp. They picked up another linebacker in the form of undrafted free agent David Nixon but he wouldn’t make the team either. This after making no movement to acquire a SAM line backer via trade or free agency. So yet another year went by without a reliable strong side linebacker much to the detriment of the defense.
The Raiders one big move this offseason was getting LB/DE Kamerion Wimbley from the Browns in a trade for the Raiders low round 3 selection. But despite his having played a hybrid outside linebacker in a 3-4 for the Browns, it was thought initially that Wimbley was brought in to play a 4-3 defensive end with the Raiders. Afterall, the Raiders needed a defensive end as well and that is the position Wimbley played in college at Florida State. It was the Browns who converted him to a 3-4 OLB. But recently Tom Cable has said that Wimbley is indeed slated as the starter on the strong side at linebacker. And if all goes well in camp, that is where he will stay.
With the strong side appearing to be finally fixed, what is to be done about the middle linebacker and weak side? These spots have been held down in the past few season by “The Law Firm” of Howard and Morrison. With Kirk Morrison leading the team in tackles every season and Thomas Howard using his speed to drop into coverage on tight ends and backs, it seemed like a dominant duo for years to come. Well, the luster has worn off the placard at this firm of late as both of them are not looking as if they are in the Raiders plans.
Tom Cable has confirmed that Trevor Scott has supplanted Thomas Howard on the weak side after Scott had solid numbers replacing Howard as the starter for the final six games of last season. The team just re-signed Howard to a one-year, $1.759 million contract but his demotion means the Raiders are now expected to shop him during the draft either for a mid-round selection or in a deal to move up to get a player they may have their eye on.
Morrison is in the same boat as Howard. Although Morrison’s departure has been expected for quite a while longer. Ever since a couple months ago when he had an original third round franchise tender placed on him, the writing has been on the wall. Morrison appeared on Jim Rome is Burning recently and said that a number of teams are interested in acquiring his services. His compensation in trade is also expected to be similar to Howard’s. But while Howard’s departure has an incumbant (Scott), Morrison’s departure leaves a vacancy in the middle.
Ricky Brown competed with “Captain Kirk” last preseason and lost– partially due to Brown going down with an injury. And while Brown certainly plays with fire and hustle, he is not the long-term answer nor is he expected to be. He is expected to play the same role he has for the past couple years of solid depth and special teams play. The Raiders will be looking to find their next middle line backer high in this draft and there are several good candidates that project in the first three rounds such as Alabama’s Rolando McClain, Penn State’s Sean Lee, Washington’s Donald Butler, Iowa’s Pat Angerer(erererer) and Florida’s Brandon Spikes.
And with the extra picks the Raiders will receive from the trading of Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison, they could possible have ten picks in this draft with as many as five in the first three rounds. That gives Cable and co. plenty of chances to either find their guy or package picks and move up to get their guy.
Either way, when the Raiders take the field next season, they will have three completely different players taking the field to open the season at the starting linebacker positions. Meanwhile “The Law Firm” is preparing to close shop for good. I will miss both of them great deal for their contributions on and off the field. But it appears the Raiders feel it is time to move on if they hope to get better.