The Oakland Raiders have had much turnover at the outside linebacker position this offseason. They let go of Darryl Blackstock, Kamerion Wimbley, and Quentin Groves. Wimbley started every game the last two seasons for the Raiders, while Groves made three starts and played in all 16 games. Blackstock started one game and played in all 16 games. With those three players gone, the Raiders will rely on free agent signee Phillip Wheeler and Aaron Curry, who was acquired in a trade last season, to stabilize the position. Part one of this series will look at the players who are being counted on to make and impact and compete for snaps.
Aaron Curry was acquired last season from the Seattle Seahawks for a seventh round 2012 NFL Draft pick. He was a former third overall pick in 2009 NFL Draft and very highly touted. He has never lived up to that billing in the NFL, but did make nine starts for the Raiders last season. He made 46 tackles and broke up three passes in 11 total games with the team last season. With new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, looking to play multiple defenses including 4-3 and 3-4 formations, Curry has some value. He has versatility to move inside on the 3-4 and enough athleticism to play outside in the 4-3. His strengths are playing run support and he was enough speed to play tight ends in man coverage.
On the opposite side of Curry will be Philip Wheeler. Wheeler came to the Raiders from the Colts, where he spent his entire four year career thus far. Last season he started 11 of the 13 games he appeared in, making 84 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Playing in Indianapolis, Wheeler primarily played Cover 2. With the Raiders he will have more blitzes and man coverage responsibilities, which could suit his skill set.
With Curry and Wheeler as the likely starters, fourth round 2012 NFL Draft pick Miles Burris will be a back-up. However Burris has shown the coaching staff during offseason workouts that he can play. Coaches have been high on Burris even after the draft and he has shown a skill set that should translate to the NFL. At San Diego State, where Burris played college ball, he was a force rushing the passer off the edge. He also had the versatility to move inside to middle linebacker and play the run. That is exactly what the Raiders will ask of him this season. If Burris can continue to improve during training camp and translate that play to preseason games, he will see snaps during the season and could become a valuable contributor. He also has the mentality of a linebacker.
“I am a very versatile player and I pride myself on being tough and playing through every game and practice no matter how I feel and what is going on with my body, but I am an explosive and powerful player and I just love the game,” Burris said after being selected by the Raiders. “I love the violence of it and I just love to go out there and compete.”
With these three outside linebacker spots filled for the Raiders, Raiders 101 part two will focus on the guys trying to use training camp and preseason as a way to make the final roster.
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