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Camp analysis: Linebackers

Seventh in a series of posts analyzing Raiders position groups with players reporting for training camp Tuesday:

Projected starters: WLB Thomas Howard, MLB Kirk Morrison, SLB Jon Alston. Backups: Ricky Brown, Isaiah Ekejiuba, Slade Norris, David Nixon, Sam Williams, Chris O’Neill.

Howard might be the fastest player at his position in the NFL. Morrison has been the Raiders leading tackler in each of the last three years. They rarely leave the field and are fan favorites. What’s difficult to determine is how much responsiblity they, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Raiders linebackers, bear in making one Oakland one of the worst teams in the NFL against the run. Until Oakland can hold teams under 4 yards per carry and make it difficult for opposing rushers to gain 100 yards, Raiders linebackers can’t be taken seriously and talk of Pro Bowl consideration is laughable. It’s not all their fault, because the Oakland defensive line doesn’t consistently win the line of scrimmage battle. But it’s also true Raiders linebackers have had trouble shedding blocks and haven’t been the best at fitting gaps. Two intriguing newcomers are Norris and Nixon, who consistently ran with the second team during minicamps and OTAs (Norris on the strong side, Nixon on the weak side). Ekejiuba is exclusively a special teams player. O’Neill was moved from tight end to middle linebacker at the request of Al Davis and Tom Cable. Williams, one of the nicer guys you’ll ever meet, never worked out as the classic SAM linebacker and if he makes the roster as a special teams player would be in his sixth year on scholarship.

The key battle: Alston vs. Brown. Alston went from a low of 211 pounds last season to 232 pounds, looking much thicker around the neck and shoulders without any apparent loss of speed. That’s still a tad undersized for a strong side linebacker. Not sure what to make of moving Brown to the middle for the offseason, given that he opened last season as the strong side starter. But since he was tendered at $1.7 million, he’s sticking around.

What I think: The Raiders need a strong, nasty run-stopping presence on their linebacking crew that hasn’t existed for far too long _ probably since Bill Romanowski’s last good year in 2002. Like the defensive line, the upgrades will have to come from a new coaching staff _ coordinator Jon Marshall and new linebackers coach Mike Haluchak. We can assume Haluchak knows something about the position. He’s been an NFL assistant for 23 years and has coached nothing but linebackers.

What could go wrong: The song remains the same and opposing runners continually find open gaps and creases in the defense.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer

  • AZ Raider

    We added some DE’s and hybrid LB’s… Who replaces Sands?

  • RaiderRockstar

    Everyone who was in the starting rotation last year will make the team again this year. We did nothing in the draft or free agency to add depth to the interior D-line.

    ***

    couldn’t agree more …

    6’4″ 310 lbs – Boschetti
    6’6″ 280 lbs – Richardson
    vs.
    6’5″ 310 lbs – Joseph
    6’7″ 335 lbs – Sands

    you lose a lot of bulk at DT by going with the top 2 players. 4 UT’s on the roster doesn’t bode well for the D-Line. If we wanted somebody in free agency we could have signed somebody already. If we wanted soembody in the draft we would have taken Raji or Brace.

  • AZ Raider

    Both those guys are DE’s anyway. There is no one to take his spot, Sands is a lock.

  • RaiderRockstar

    49ers quarterback Alex Smith has enjoyed an excellent offseason that has created a closer than expected competition with incumbent Shaun Hill.

    According to the National Football Post, Smith may even have an advantage. Matt Bowen writes that “everyone inside the building is pulling” for Smith to become the team’s starter.

    -PFT

    ***

    AZ: how does that make you feel?

  • AZ Raider

    Both Warren and Kelly played well at the end of the season against the run (I didn’t say great I said well…).

  • AZ Raider

    I don’t know how it makes me feel. Hill is 7-2 as the starter, which might already have him starting the season, but I have a feeling this could be Smith’s breakout year. He’s on the same bubble Huff is on IMO.

  • RaiderRockstar

    Clouds gather between Niners, Crabtree

    Posted by Mike Florio (PFT)

    We continue to hear, from multiple sources, that receiver Michael Crabtree might not be agreeing to terms at any time soon.

    Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wrote about the issue today, and we suspect that more and more will be written and said about the looming holdout. (Like Matt, we used to refrain from calling players without contracts “holdouts,” since the term implies that they’re doing something wrong. Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN.com eventually persuaded us that, since they are “holding out” for more than what the team is offering, any guy who is withholding services in search of a new deal is technically a “holdout.”)

    Agent Eugene Parker, we’re told, has dusted off the time-honored (but usually unsuccessful) argument that Crabtree is better than his draft position indicates, and that he should be paid accordingly.

    Sorry, Gene, but that’s not the way it works. Guys get paid based on where they got drafted, and the process has yet to recognize a “diva premium.”

    Indeed, it was both the perception that Crabtree is a high-maintenance pain-in-the-butt and the ill-timed revelation of a stress fracture in Crabtree’s foot that fueled the slide to No. 10 overall.

    It’s possible that Parker believes he can cram his position down the 49ers’ throats, given that the guy calling the shots now, Jed York, isn’t much older than Crabtree. And we suspect that Parker has a separate goal of stretching the windfall nature of the first-round deals, which currently peters out at No. 7 or No. 8, all the way down to No. 10.

    Regardless of how it turns out, it’s unlikely the Niners will cave quickly, if ever. And so Crabtree — who already is behind the curve due to the rehab of his foot injury — will miss valuable time in training camp, and he won’t nearly be as effective in his rookie season as he otherwise could have been.

    Bottom line? Everyone loses in this one.

    Except for the other teams in the NFC West — and the other teams that play San Fran this season.

    ***

    DHB! DHB! DHB!

  • AZ Raider

    Smith will have to have a significantly better camp than Hill, and a more impressive pre-season to get the start, but if they go 0-3 you might see him.

  • http://atm Raider O

    Good Morning Nation, and I hope you all had a great Weekend.

  • RaiderRockstar

    Alex Smith is on the same bubble Huff is on?

    Smith was #1 overall in 2005

    Huff was #7 overall in 2006

    The 49ers reworked Smith’s deal just to keep him. Huff has been promised nothing. big difference imo

  • AZ Raider

    DHB and Crabtree will both have little impact this year. Don’t think DHB blossoms until year 3… Crabtree? I have no clue, he’s gonna fit well with the 9ers system for sure.

  • AZ Raider

    Both have to produce to avoid the “bust” tag this year IMO… tha’s where i get the bubble.

  • AZ Raider

    AZ Raider Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 8:06 am
    Both have to produce to avoid the “bust” tag this year IMO… tha’s where i get the bubble.

    ……………………………………………….

    Huff and Smith that is…

  • Charlie

    Back up DT’s really are not back ups any longer.
    Whether it is a conditioning problem or we are on the field too long because we can not make third down stops or the offense is on a three and out streak, it seems like we play all three equally plus Sands 10%.

    DT is a key position and is a core reason why our defense against the run stinks. Just because we have only brought in Boschetti does not mean the coaches are satisfied with the existing talent. There was no good FA value at this spot this year (Haynesworth???????) and we continue to build from the outside in in the draft.

    We are that bad at DT and I laugh at the talk of improved “gap discipline” and coaching technique.
    We do not stay in our gaps because we get pushed out of the way.
    Other than Kelly, I hope we will see some new faces or we need to be prepared for the NFC east and others to run it down our throats.

  • RaiderRockstar

    Heyward-Bey is going to be a stud this year. despite what Jerry and S&B think, we drafted DHB to use as a deep threat. We’re not going to put a 7th overall pick on the bench in favor of a couple 3rd & 7th round selections who haven’t proven anything either…

    you guys telling me DHB couldn’t have 22 catches, 366 yards & 4 TD’s as a rookie? because that led the team last year!

    you don’t draft a project in the Top 10. you draft a player

  • RaiderRockstar

    I laugh at the talk of improved “gap discipline” and coaching technique.

    ***

    you don’t think coaching makes a difference?

    what would New England be w/o Bill Belichek?

    what would Pittsburg be w/o Dick LeBeau?

    come on Charlie. you can do better!

  • http://atm Raider O

    I was reading about Matt Shaughnessy last night. He is a very interesting Talent.
    He has enough speed to rush the passer, but his bread and butter is setting the edge. That’s exactly what we need!
    I thought he was another pass rusher, but he can compete with Jay to become the starter.

    BTW,
    BHP told me that a few days back.

  • RaiderRockstar

    AZ: Alex Smith is already a bust.

    Michael Huff got Rob Ryan’d!

    However, I agree. both must produce to stick

  • RaiderRockstar

    BHP & Raider O form an alliance?

    Kell, LMN, Dakota & Jhill won’t be pleased!

  • RaiderRockstar

    anybody seen happy troll?

  • http://atm Raider O

    RR,

    Good morning Bro.

    I think BB is overrated! I can’t believe how a single play can change so much for 2 teams.

    Damn the Pats, and the Tuck rule!

  • http://atm Raider O

    RR,

    Alliance!!!

    I love this place!

    LMAO

  • RaiderRockstar

    I think BB is overrated!

    ***

    good morning Raider O.

    I don’t like Bill Belichick either, but you can’t dispute his W/L record since taking over the team in 2000. They have been a juggernaut the past 9 years. The 3 Super Bowl trophies speak for themselves.

    The man has been coaching in the NFL since 1975!

  • http://atm Raider O

    RR,

    It’s Been a long time. I hope all is well with him. I know he coaches and he likes it a lot, so maybe he’s coaching.

  • AZ Raider

    RaiderRockstar Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 8:11 am
    Heyward-Bey is going to be a stud this year. despite what Jerry and S&B think, we drafted DHB to use as a deep threat. We’re not going to put a 7th overall pick on the bench in favor of a couple 3rd & 7th round selections who haven’t proven anything either…

    you guys telling me DHB couldn’t have 22 catches, 366 yards & 4 TD’s as a rookie? because that led the team last year!

    you don’t draft a project in the Top 10. you draft a player

    ……………………………………………….

    22 366 & 4? of coarse he can do that LOL…. I’m thinking he just won’t have a “WOW” impact until year 3. Schilens will be our most productive reciever this year if he stays healthy, and the only reciever besides Miller to reach over or around 1000 yards IMO.

  • http://atm Raider O

    RR,

    I didn’t say he wasn’t a good Coach, but that he is overrated. People ( Media) talk about him like he was the greatest mind in the NFL.

    Was he a good coach before that play in 2000?

  • AZ Raider

    His play will be spotty at best, stretching the field and getting jump balls at the goal line :)

  • http://atm Raider O

    Hey!!!

    Where is the Whinner Fan? lol

    A Smith WAS a Superior talent!
    A Smith WAS on a Mission from God!!

    Now, It’s Danny’s Time!!!

  • AZ Raider

    What’s up O, good morning!

  • RaiderRockstar

    Alex Smith played football at Helix High School. As a starter during his Junior and Senior years, Smith led his team to a record of 25-1, including two San Diego CIF section championships. He was named to the first-team all-conference and all-county squads in the San Diego CIF system. Smith also earned the conference offensive player of the year twice, and twice won the team MVP for Helix. During his time at Helix, Smith set a school record by throwing for six touchdowns in one game, and recorded the second-highest completion percentage in San Diego CIF history. While at Helix, he played with 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who was also a finalist for the 2004 award, making it the first time a high school had two finalists at the ceremony.

    Smith was president of his senior class in high school, and was also an excellent student who graduated with a 4.4 GPA one sememster early by earning college credits through a program with San Diego State University. He pulled a similar feat in college where he earned enough credits to earn his bachelor’s degree in Economics in just two years.[1]

    In 2006, Smith started the Alex Smith Foundation which assists former foster youth in attaining higher education. The program is currently reaching out to students in the San Diego, CA area.

    ***

    Raider O = Alex Smith’s #1 fan ???

  • http://atm Raider O

    New post!!

  • Charlie

    I think coaching is about twenty percent of the equation as a general rule.

    Belichik was not that smart in Cleveland.
    Seifert was not very smart in Carolina.
    Lombardi was not that smart in Washington.
    Weis got really stupid after Quinn et al graduated.

    Players are the game and you better have talent first.

    We have been a bad football team for six straight years and an absolute embarrasment against the run. The statistics bear that out and defense starts with the Dline not the coaches.
    We have some new faces at DE and we better get some new talent at DT. Do not expect a rookie SS and Marshall to make that much of difference.

  • SILVRnBLKfeathers

    Heyward-Bey is going to be a stud this year. despite what Jerry and S&B think, we drafted DHB to use as a deep threat. We’re not going to put a 7th overall pick on the bench in favor of a couple 3rd & 7th round selections who haven’t proven anything either…

    ***

    I think any of our WR crew can be studs, only if the O-Line can hold on long enough… Especially DHB!

  • SILVRnBLKfeathers

    AZ Raider Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    22 366 & 4? of coarse he can do that LOL…. I’m thinking he just won’t have a “WOW” impact until year 3. Schilens will be our most productive reciever this year if he stays healthy, and the only reciever besides Miller to reach over or around 1000 yards IMO.

    ***

    I have to agree. He seems like the only WR we have tha can even catch Russell’s passes besides Miller. Plus very quick and he runs the routs better than any of out WR’s I think.

  • SILVRnBLKfeathers

    Copy N Paste is the best!

  • raiderman1960

    Did we get rid of that stud MLB’ing run stopper before camp even began ( Frantz Joesph )? Might not have been fast enough but could have he plug a gap. Then le duce trey be your speed.

  • 73rdraider

    Bill Belicheck was the Defensive Coordinator of the New York Giants in the mid eighties to the early nineties. Very great defenses. He wasn’t very successful in Cleveland but He improved the team anyway. Honestly I hate the Pats but I think he is a great coach.