The linebacker corps may be the Oakland Raiders best position group entering the 2014 season. Nick Roach will be counted on again this season to hold down the middle linebacker spot. General manager Reggie McKenzie has built the depth of this unit on versatility. So when looking at the positions, there will be several interchangeable parts.
Roach is considered a leader on the defense and played nearly every snap in 2013. He has the confidence of the coaching staff and will be the quarterback of the defense this season. He led the Raiders in tackles with 112 stops. He contributed in so many ways including 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and an interception. Not matter what defensive scheme the Raiders run in 2014; Roach will be a crucial part.
This is where the training camp competition gets very interesting. The Raiders do not have a traditional depth chart behind Roach. They have a few younger players at middle linebacker, but they are long shots to make the roster. Instead, Oakland will use training camp to prepare other players to work behind Roach. For example, Miles Burris played weak-side outside linebacker, but will get reps at middle linebacker during training camp. Head coach Dennis Allen has already begun experimenting with players at different positions during OTAs and mini-camp.
Burris may end up the back-up to Roach if he can acclimate himself to the position during training camp. Two other options will be Kevin Burnett, who started at weak side linebacker last year. He could still end up starting there again, but he has experience at middle linebacker and the Raiders can use him behind Roach. When the Raiders go into a 3-4 look on defense, Burnett is the logical choice to move inside to play next to Roach with Sio Moore playing the weak side. There will be plenty of shuffling going around at linebacker, but Burnett's versatility makes him an interesting option.
Another linebacker who could get some work at middle linebacker is Kaluka Maiava. He was decimated by injuries in 2013 and missed significant time, but will look to come back healthy. Maiava is another player who has worked at a few linebacker positions and is a potential back-up option to Roach.
This is not a typical situation the Raiders are dealing with at middle linebacker. They have Nick Roach starting and then several moving pieces behind him. Training camp competition will go a long way in clearing up who will play behind Roach. It is going to be very important and exciting to see how these linebacker positions shake out; especially because of the Raiders have a talented group to work with.
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