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Raiders training camp roster breakdown: Linebackers

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Ben Heeney showed his potential late last season and figures to be among the starting linebackers. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Ben Heeney showed his potential late last season and figures to be among the starting linebackers. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

We turn our attention to linebackers for part four of this 10-part series looking at each of the Raiders position groups before training camp begins on Friday.

This is when it starts to get a little tricky, especially for a team like the Raiders. The line between linebacker and defensive end can get very blurry. Consider this: Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin play essentially the same position on opposite sides of the defense. Mack is listed at defensive end and Irvin at linebacker.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I’ll go with the positions each player is listed at on the Raiders official roster. Irvin and Shilique Calhoun will appear here. Mack will be in the next post for defensive lineman.

The starters

Irvin obviously occupies a starting outside linebacker spot. The Raiders intend to focus on sending Irvin forward more and not having him dropping back into coverage as much as he did in Seattle. The goal is to see his sack total jump up similar to Mack’s.

Veteran Malcolm Smith and second-year player Ben Heeney should handle the two inside linebacker spots. Smith excelled in his first season as a full-time starter last year with the Raiders after playing situationally in Seattle. He had a career-high and team-leading 122 tackles. His four sacks were double his previous career total and he also had an interception and two forced fumbles.

Heeney, a fifth-round pick last season from Kansas, earned three late starts last year and finished the season with 31 tackles and 2. 5 sacks. He opened some eyes in training camp and the preseason during his rookie season and finished it strong as well. The Raiders showed faith in him during the offseason by not heavily addressing the inside linebackers group.

The depth

Um, well, yeah.

Yes, depth is a concern here for the Raiders. Smith has only one season as a full-time starter and Heeney’s in his second year, period. Yet, they are both easily the most experienced inside linebackers on the roster.

The backups for Smith and Heeney include John Lotulelei and Korey Toomer, who have both played in 18 games over three seasons.

Lotulelei had two starts with Jacksonville in 2013 and played briefly under defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. in Seattle in 2013. He joined the practice squad late last year and was activated after Mario Edwards Jr. went on injured reserve. He didn’t see any game action though.

Toomer played in 10 games last year for the Raiders, but primarily on special teams and he had just four tackles.

Calhoun has the look of a pretty good backup to Irvin’s spot on the outside. The third-round pick from Michigan State had a productive college career (27.5 career sacks) and should grow well into that position.

Neiron Ball is a wild card in the linebackers group for the Raiders. (Foslien/Getty Images)

Neiron Ball is a wild card in the linebackers group for the Raiders.
(Foslien/Getty Images)

The wild card

The big wild card from the linebacker group is Neiron Ball. It’s easy for people to get caught up in thinking about how good Ball was before he got hurt (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of tweets about that). But it’s still unknown how good Ball was and might be.

Ball played a good game or so before the injury. He had a sack and fumble recovery in the win against Cleveland, then earned that start at home against Denver. That’s what made him popular. The Raiders were torched by opposing tight ends the first four games before shutting down the Broncos pretty well. What we didn’t know at the time was the Broncos passing game was not a very good one and their tight end production was pretty awful.

Ball, of course, injured his knee a week later, didn’t make it back in the 4-6 week projection provided by general manager Reggie McKenzie and didn’t participate in the offseason program. He was on the field with the rookies, quarterbacks and recovering injured players Sunday, so that’s a good sign. But we still need to see more proof of what he can do on the field.

The rest

The rest of the linebacker group includes Daren Bates, who figures to make his hay on special teams. Sixth-round pick Cory James will also likely get his start on those units. Fresno State product Kyrie Wilson is an undrafted rookie, as is interesting prospect James Cowser.

Cowser is a linebacker/defensive end who will be an outside pass rusher. The Southern Utah product set the FCS record with 42.5 career sacks and 80 tackles for loss. If he can replicate that production against NFL competition — a stiff jump from the FCS — he could be fun to watch.

The team is also now listing former safety Jimmy Hall at linebacker. He’s 6-1, 230 pounds and has outside linebacker experience from college. He could presumably add some pass coverage skills to the linebackers unit.

Note:

I didn’t initially make any inclusion of Aldon Smith, which is probably all the same after the most recent news on him. Who knows what will come of it, but the NFL is now investigating. That’s not good for a player hoping to have his reinstatement considered in a few months. The Raiders had to consider any production from Smith this year a bonus before any of this came up. That’s the case even more so now.

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Jimmy Durkin

Sports writer for the Bay Area News Group, covering the Raiders.

  • R8der4evr

    Stoner

  • jesusraiderjim

    No golfng allowed.

  • SaintKaufman

    I wonder how far down RM had him, if he would have even taken him at 44. Couldn’t believe how little Jax gave up to get him.

  • Ken SnakeLer

    8/12, I believe?

  • HELLSBELLS

    Better than the S.S. Minnow

  • R8der4evr

    I said he would be a camp suprise, WAY DIFFERENT

  • RAY NJ

    A bad slice from that thing can do a lot of damage.

  • inonewordraider

    We got the private workout and didn’t take him, Mightve been off the board completely

  • R8erEduc8er

    Too slow. Aug 12 vs the Palmerettes. A little over 2 weeks away!

  • RAY NJ

    …here on Gilligan’s Isle.

  • jesusraiderjim

    A staple in my house. One time I cut out little pictures of my brother in laws and taped them over the dudes face on the bottle. Gave them to them at X-mas

  • SaintKaufman

    True. Even if he only last for say 5 years it’s still better than drafting a backup qb and another edge rusher.

  • RAY NJ

    What’s that?

  • Rik/Talk/to/The/Hand

    That sure was a big stogie…

  • R8der4evr

    He offered some BBQ chicken and the best damn collard greens you can try.
    No buyers!!!

  • Rik/Talk/to/The/Hand

    Lol

  • HELLSBELLS

    Flavor of doritos. It is a hot sauce brand.

  • RAY NJ

    Ooh.

  • HELLSBELLS

    In a pinch, also less messy.

  • inonewordraider

    Ended up being ward which is good insurance for Edwards but with Edwards good to go, seems like it woulda been the way to go but oh well, hopefully ward makes an 4get about it

  • R8der4evr

    That’s not what she told us Rik

  • HELLSBELLS

    Not really.

  • HELLSBELLS

    These pretzels are making me thirsty.

  • LOL

  • SaintKaufman

    Damn, I’d take that offer. I’m hungry!

  • Rik/Talk/to/The/Hand

    You you..BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Rik/Talk/to/The/Hand

    “The Wildweed grew wild on the farm, but we never knew what is was called”.

  • R8der4evr

    For a Saint it would be done

  • dplunk

    “Smith excelled in his first season as a full-time starter last year with the Raiders after playing situationally in Seattle. He had a career-high and team-leading 122 tackles. His four sacks were double his previous career total and he also had an interception and two forced fumbles.”
    for those of us who says M. Smith suvx

  • R8erEduc8er

    Jack and Joseph were my 2 favorite players so I can’t be mad.

  • R8erEduc8er

    He wasn’t on the board when we picked in the 2nd round was he? Not sure if Jax had 2 second round picks, one being after us.

  • TrevJo

    He was the #7 defensive player in fantasy football by my league’s scoring. Behind only Lavonte David, Reshad Jones, D’Qwell Jackson, Navorro Bowman, Thomas Davis, and Telvin Smith.

  • oops it already recorded…midnight last night…. maybe they replay ?? it was well done…nfl films

  • SB3

    Haven’t been around much the last few days, but cut Aldon and move on or BS report?

    Always something with that guy.

  • anyone see our season synopsis for 2015 (nfl films) on nfln last night?

    pretty good!

    replay maybe?

  • R8erEduc8er

    Stats were on par with Kuechly stats from last year. But blog says he’s subpar.

  • Ronin559

    I think Jack will be more of an OLB if he is able to come back 100%. But it would be nice to have another ILB/MLB

  • R8erEduc8er

    I’d just let it play out (not like we have a choice). He wasn’t the cake nor the icing on the cake…..he was the cherry on top.

  • Dan78

    Good try, cakewalk…

  • Ronin559

    If those big athletic guys up front pan out and make trouble for the Oline, the smaller faster LBs could have field days with no blockers to worry about.

  • Dan78

    New post.. Aldon all done..

  • R8erEduc8er

    MachoManRandySavage • 44 minutes ago
    whats up scallywags? so, Aldon is not coming back. ok. no problem, we have irving…anybody seen Regi Nelson in camp? now that worries me.

    +++

    Yo, you called bro?

  • Ronin559

    I think Crowser could make a splash. We have seen FCS guys get overlooked and turn out to be solid pros before.

  • inonewordraider

    Kirk Morrison had good #s, pff says he’s sux, my eyes say he’s ok and the weak link on d

  • R8erEduc8er

    What sux about 122 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT, and 2 forced fumbles (1 being a game changer vs SD)?

  • r8dercain

    Afternoon fellas

  • Marymbarley3

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