The green sticker affixed to the helmet of Philip Wheeler made official what has become apparent almost since the day he arrived as a free agent.
He has become the leader of the Raiders defense because of both his passion and playmaking ability.
When the Raiders decided to move rookie fourth-round pick Miles Burris into the nickel defense in place of Rolando McClain, the responsibility for wearing the wired helmet (designated by a green sticker) to relay instructions from the coaching staff fell to Wheeler.
“It gives me a lot of responsibilities and it makes me work harder,’’ Wheeler said. “It’s forced me to get in the film room more, so I can make better calls and do what’s right for the defense, and I’m up to the job.’’
According to the Raiders’ stats, Wheeler is the team’s second-leading tackler behind safety Tyvon Branch with 58 stops. He’s also got a pair of passes defesned, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Although Wheeler doesn’t have a sack, he’s been an effective blitzer _ as evidenced by his hit on Matt Ryan that led to a wounded duck interception by Branch for the Raiders’ third interception against the Falcons. Stats LLC credits Wheeler with seven quarterback hits.
Wheeler credited McClain for playing well in his new role, and shared a laugh with an exhausted Burris after the Falcons game. Both played every snap against Atlanta, which is the norm for Wheeler but something new for Burris.
“He did pretty good. I was pretty proud of him, stepping in there, playing all of the snaps’’ Wheeler said. “After the game, he told me, `So this is what your body feels like after the game.’
“I said, you’ve got to recuperate, sit down when you get a chance, get off your feet and come back at it next week.’’
Wheeler was generally pleased with how the Raiders defense played against the Falcons, especially in contrast to road losses in Miami and Denver.
“We held them to one touchdown on offense and I feel like we did a decent job,’’ Wheeler said. “We did better, and that’s our standard now. We’ve got to play like that or better.’’
– Raiders who were not practicing Friday and are likely going to be declared “out’’ include cornerback Shawntae Spencer, right tackle Khalif Barnes and tight end Richard Gordon.
Linebacker Aaron Curry was practicing for the third straight day, but is unlikely to be placed on the 53-man roster until he gets more practices under his belt. A 21-day window began Wednesday, during which time the Raiders can activate Curry.
At the end of 21 days, the Raiders must either place Curry on the roster, place him on injured reserve or release him.
– There was no word as practice began whether or not the Raiders had sold enough tickets to declare a sellout and ensure that the game would be shown on local television.