Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

July 10, 2008
Third man needed

The Raiders have two stars in the making at linebacker.

Kirk Morrison is among the best in coverage in the NFL. Thomas Howard is an athletic wonder that can do just about anything.

Howard even covered Pro Bowl receiver Braylon Edwards during a two-minute drill.

But the base defense has three linebackers. So the Raiders need to settle that spot.

The third linebacking spot has been manned by two players the last couple of seasons. Each has their positives and negative.

Sam Williams has the size (6-5, 260) and athleticism to be a dominant outside linebacker. But as has been the case much of his career, Williams was limited by injuries last season.

Then there's Robert Thomas who is much smaller (6-0, 235) but has great quickness and instincts.

That third linebacker won't be as vital in passing situations, though Thomas is more comfortable playing the pass against smaller receivers.

This linebacker primarily plays on the strong side, meaning he has to be a stalwart against the run.

The Raiders main issue was a lack of gap responsibility against the run. So regardless of who gets the nod, that player needs to cut down on mental errors.

And he better tackle.

As training camp progresses, this will be a battle to watch.

Also, don't rule out Ricky Brown. The coaching staff likes him. Brown has been primarily a special teams player, but began seeing time with the regular defense by the end of the 2007 season.

Some of those appearances came when the Raiders used four linebackers in an attempt to stop random running backs from piling up at least 100 rushing yards.

The Raiders certainly don't want to resort to that again. Using four linebackers puts the defense in danger of having a player in pass coverage they'd prefer not be if the offense uses playaction passes.

Plus, four linebackers didn't stop a whole lot.

Finding a consistent force on the strongside would be better than four.

Linebacker review

Jon Alston: One of the linebackers that played in the four-backer set. Fast and built like a strong safety.

Brown: Went from practice squad player to solid contributor on special teams.

Jon Condo: Technically can play linebacker, but he's a longsnapper. His tackling on special teams was a boost last season.

Isaiah Ekejiuba
: Standout on special teams.

Edgerton Hartwell
: Raiders are giving him a chance to resurrect his once promising career.

Howard: His six interceptions were best among linebackers in 2007.

Malik Jackson: Undrafted rookie will have to be very impressive to make the team.

Morrison: Will take more of a leadership role with Warren Sapp's retirement.

Thomas: Can actually play all three linebacker spots if needed.

Williams: Is looking to play in all 16 games for the first time in his career. Played in 15 in 2006, but missed five games in 2007.

--Jason Jones

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About Raiders Blog and Q&A

Matt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee's sports staff in fall 2011.

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