Originally written March 18, 2013 on Thoughts from the Dark Side:
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At the end of last week, the Raiders signed former Chicago Bears LB Nick Roach to a 4 year deal worth up to $13 million.  The 6’1 235 lbs linebacker played as the Bears starting strong-side linebacker last year (strong side is the side of the line where the tight end lines up) for most of the season but filled in at middle linebacker for the last four games of the season when Brian Urlacher was out with an injury. Roach, originally signed by the Chargers as an undrafted free agent signed with Chicago after being cut fairly quickly by the Chargers.  He made the squad in 2007 and worked his way into the starting role in 2012. It’s unclear what Roach’s role will be in the silver and black but in anticipation of him likely earning a starting role at some spot, I watched some of his film from last season with the Bears to get an idea what kind of player the Raiders were getting. First, Roach isn’t track fast – his 40 yard dash times averaged 4.74 in his Northwestern pro day – however, he does show up on film as being fast.  He’s one of those players that is more football fast than anything else. Roach doesn’t have an amazing first step but it’s good enough to get him moving quickly in the direction he wants to go. He’s fast enough to stay with most tight ends and can he has the motor and range to be a sideline to sideline player. On the positive end I liked his play recognition.  He did a good job of quickly determining whether the play was a pass or a run and handling it, accordingly.  He had good change of direction and good lateral movement. Roach did especially well defending stretch running plays when he could use his timing and agility to knife through the offensive line and disrupt the play in the backfield. He didn’t get a lot of chances to blitz and I never saw him get a sack but he did do a good job of timing his blitzes, for the most part.  He did especially well when he was on a delay blitz where he initially acted like he was dropping in coverage before shooting forward into an open gap.  He got quite a few pressures that way, even though he didn’t come up with a sack in the games I watched.   The biggest negative I saw from Roach’s tape – and I saw it time and time again – was that he struggled mightily to disengage from blocks.   One of the most important skills for a linebacker is being able to “stack and shed” where the linebacker can stop the forward momentum of an opposing offensive player, not give ground and then shed the block when the play comes his direction. Roach was able to take on fullbacks and tight ends well enough.  He had some slight issues being able to disengage but they were only slight. However, he really had a hard time getting away when the guards pulled and became the lead blocker or the center came out and engaged him.   The biggest concern I would have for Roach is that teams would start targeting him in the middle if he is the team’s staring MLB. By using pulling guards they can really hit him at the point of attack and drive him backward. I’d prefer to have Roach playing at SLB, the position vacated by Philip Wheeler.  I think he has the speed to be able to stay with tight ends and he also is much better when going against tight end – showing the ability to seal the edge and drive the running back inside to be cleaned up by the defensive tackles and other linebackers.  For more Raiders news and notes throughout the day, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews
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