Oakland Raiders Position Battles to Watch: Linebacker

The Oakland Raiders linebacker position is arguably the Raiders weakest position on defense. Last season, that title belonged to the corner back position, but with the signings of Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell, Reggie McKenzie greatly upgraded that position. At the linebacker position, the Raiders only added a fourth round draft pick in Miles Burris and an above average outside linebacker in Philip Wheeler, but also lost former starter Kamerion Wimbley.

The presumed starters going into the season are Aaron Curry, Rolando McClain and Philip Wheeler. After coming to Oakland, Aaron Curry showed that he was worth much more than the 7th round pick the Raiders gave up for him. He played much better in the Silver and Black than he did with the Seattle Seahawks, but he still showed some serious flaws in both run and pass defense. He is an athletic freak of nature who has the physical talents to be a star, but thus far, has not shown the football intelligence to get there.

Rolando McClain was supposed to be the solution to a linebacking corps that had struggled to fare well in run defense for years. He was heralded as a quarterback on defense capable of becoming the defensive anchor for the Raiders like Patrick Willis is for the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, he has been consistently unable to shed blocks and is often out of position. In addition to his poor play on the field, he has also had off the field issues. If he does end up being sentenced to time for the assault charges in Alabama, he could miss a significant portion of the season when you combine time missed for being in jail with time missed after Roger Goodell gets through with him.

Philip Wheeler played four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and was solid, but nothing special. He is a bit undersized, but is a very smart football player. He has said that he felt like he was held back a bit with the Colts due to their almost exclusively playing a cover two defense. Wheeler has stated that he is excited to play for the Raiders due to the fact that he will be asked to do a lot of different things and will not be as limited as he was in Indianapolis. Wheeler is certainly not guaranteed a starting spot in Oakland, but so far, he looks like he will win the job.

The reason that I lumped all of the linebacker positions into one group is because all three positions are up for grabs at this point, and there are two guys on the roster who are capable of competing for all three positions. Travis Goethel is a versatile backer who makes up for his small stature with big plays. He has good speed and plays with great vision. He is able to make plays all over the field and is a very smart player. Should McClain miss any time, Goethel would be first in line to back him up. However, if McClain continues to struggle, and Goethel lives up to his potential and can stay healthy, I would not be surprised if he challenged McClain for the starting position.

Miles Burris was the Raiders fourth round draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Another versatile player, Burris played in a defense at San Diego State that had him seeing time at both strong and weak side linebacker. He has an impressive burst of speed and also plays with good vision. The Raiders have used Burris exclusively at outside linebacker so far this off season, but he could play middle linebacker if needed. Burris has played at both outside positions during the Raiders camps, and has even played with the first team at weak side linebacker for a bit. If either Curry or Wheeler are unable to step up their play this season, Burris could see the starting lineup a lot sooner than most would have expected.

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