Although listed as the starting strong side linebacker like his predecessor, Kamerion Wimbley, Philip Wheeler will have a much different role with the Raiders in 2012.
Wimbley could be found at strong side linebacker in the base defense, where he had little success in pass coverage and was marginal against then run. In the nickel defense, Wimbley moved to right end and became the club’s most consistent pass rusher.
Wheeler, a more compact player at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, will have myriad roles in a multiple system.
“They ask me to do a lot of things, cover the tight end sometimes, blitz sometimes, drop back in coverage,’’ Wheeler said Wednesday following the Raiders’ organized team activity. “It’s fun because the offense is never going to know what we’re doing.’’
Returning players are thrilled with a system as installed by coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver that deviates from the standard 4-3 defense with minimal blitzing and backed by a man-to-man defense favored by late owner Al Davis since the club returned to Oakland in 1995.
Likewise, Wheeler is excited to play in something other than the strict Cover 2 employed by the Indianapolis Colts. He understand why the Colts played that way _ the Cover 2 perfectly complemented Peyton Manning as a play-with-the-lead offense on a team that could score.
But it did little for expanding Wheeler’s game as a player. Blitzing was a rumor, as Wheeler had two sacks in 61 games over four seasons with the Colts.
He watched with admiration in linebacker-friendly schemes that helped make Von Miller a rookie star in Denver as well as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco _ schemes that involved Allen with the Broncos and Tarver with the 49ers.
“We’re doing a lot of the same things and I feel I can do some of those things those guys are doing,’’ Wheeler said.
Said Allen: “I think the thing about him is that he’s a really good athlete. He’s explosive, he’s got speed, he’s got some rushability. When we play some of our zone coverages, that stuff he did at Indianapolis. He excels at that. I think being able to have guys like that where we can move them around and do different stuff is going to help us.’’
Having looked across the field at Manning for his first three years in Indianapolis during practice, Wheeler is looking forward to seeing him twice a year when the Raiders play the Broncos.
“I learned a lot from him just going against him,’’ Wheeler said. “I think he made me a better player. Any player that went through that, he made ‘em better, and it’s going to be fun playing against them.’’