Two years ago, the Oakland Raiders decided to do a complete overhaul of their linebacking unit. They traded Kirk Morrison and demoted Thomas Howard and brought in an entirely new starting lineup with Rolando McClain, Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves. Then, five weeks into the 2011 season, the Raiders traded for Aaron Curry and immediately put him in the starting lineup over Quentin Groves.
However, despite all of the changes among the linebacker personnel, the unit continued to be one of the weakest parts of the Oakland Raiders defense. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain has struggled to be the dominant force that he was drafted to be. He has not been able to get off blocks and is often seen completely out of position on big plays. His only real bright spot is that he has not been as bad in pass coverage as people thought he might be coming out of college.
After a huge first season in Oakland, Kamerion Wimbley also had a hard time producing in 2011. He was not the same sort of liability that Rolando McClain has turned out to be, but he also does not do much to stand out as an impact player. His performance in 2011 was that of an above average to good player, but was nothing to write home about.
Surprisingly, the best linebacker on the Raiders in 2011 was Aaron Curry. After failing to live up to his high draft status with the Seattle Seahawks, Curry was traded to the Raiders for the dirt cheap price of a seventh round draft pick. In Oakland, Curry was allowed to use his speed and instincts without being hampered down too much by an overly complex defensive scheme.
The thing about the Oakland Raiders linebacking corps is that all three starters appear to have a ton of natural talent, but cannot seem to find a way to live up to that talent. For the two outside linebackers, there appears to be a lot of hope that a new defensive coaching staff could bring about the type of play that was envisioned when these guys were first drafted.
With Rolando McClain, on the other hand, people are starting to question whether or not he has what it takes to be an impactful middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. His continued inability to be a playmaker in the middle combined with his off the field issues point to the fact that this position, which is often considered to be the quarterback of the defense, is simply too big for him. He is an intelligent kid with good size, but perhaps he is better suited a 4-3 scheme where he has help in the middle and not as much is put on his shoulders. While it does not appear that the Raiders will be actively looking for someone to replace McClain, if back up Travis Goethal can stay healthy, I would not be surprised to see him give McClain a run for the starting position.
No matter how it happens, this is a unit that must show improvement in 2012 if the Raiders wish to make it into the playoffs.