Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Oakland Raiders: Fierce Competition at Linebacker

The team is eighteen practices into the 2008 Training Camp and the good thing is that the competition at the linebacker position is still fierce.

The entire organization is committed to moving in the right direction and unlike last year have it reflect in the win/loss record.

Players are competing hard knowing that this will help them develop and improve their game and the team.

The Raiders wanted more competition at the position and chose to add two players for the position outside of the NFL draft.

The team added veteran free agent linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and undrafted rookie free agent Malik Jackson to the corps of linebackers.

Both players are working hard and trying to establish themselves. The depth chart was released for the first pre season game Friday against the 49ers and Malik Jackson’s name wasn’t on it.

This means that he has more work to do or the previous statement becomes permanent. I was interested to see which position Ed Hartwell would be listed, Middle Linebacker or Strong side Linebacker. He is listed as the second team MLB.

The surprise for me was hearing that LB Ricky Brown has been receiving reps with the 1st team defense. He has shown flashes on special teams and is listed as the starter for Friday’s game at SLB.

The SLB position has been a two-man battle for a while between Robert Thomas and Sam Williams.

Coach Kiffin isn’t a man of many words and got straight to the point when asked about the linebackers stating and I quote “Robert is playing Mike and Sam (linebacker) for us,"

"Robert's got to play special teams and I've talked to him about that, and he's going to have to do it all to make the team, so there's a lot of competition there at linebackers. There's only two guys there that I know are going to make this team and the rest of the guys better play special teams and contribute."

It is safe to assume that Kiffin is “throwing down the gauntlet.”

This is nothing new, competition brings out the best in players and this is great for the team.

All Raider fans realize that Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard will make the team.

The young players developing, learning how to play more than one position and contributing on special teams is what is nice to see.

Due to the fact that it would help the players develop into complete players, it will improve the linebacker group; it will improve the overall team speed and most importantly help improve the defense.

Ricky Brown at SLB and Jon Alston, another LB and special team’s player, at WLB are making a strong push for playing time.

I’m anxious to see the first pre-season game but I’m really interested in seeing what the linebacker corps looks like with the speed of Thomas Howard and Ricky Brown at the two outside positions.

Outside linebackers must have the strength to shed blocks; the speed to make plays form sideline-to-sideline and the athletic ability to pay in zone or man coverage.

The silver and black linebacker corps will be much more aggressive this year.

I mentioned a few months ago that the entire defense would be more aggressive by attacking more as oppose to allowing the opposing offense to dictate the tempo and several people disagreed with me.

I had no problem with that; what I did have a problem with was several people stating that stunting and blitzing are things that the Raiders have not and will not do.

Stopping the run will be a concerted effort and it will take the efforts of everyone and not just the defensive lineman.

DT Tommy Kelly was re-signed to anchor the defensive line, control the interior against the run and get after the quarterback when passing.
Contrary to popular belief he will do damage with Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands and William Joseph.

The fact of the matter is the defensive line and linebackers will be involved in stopping the run as well as getting after the quarterback.

On occasion Derrick Burgess will line up at the linebacker position. This is a move that will allow him a free release or an obstructed path to the QB. He is being moved around to create mismatches and attack from several different angles.

Derrick Burgess is poised to have a huge year and get back to a double-digit sack total and another trip to the Pro Bowl.

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