Breaking Down the Linebackers

Rupert

The Long Wind
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This would seem to be a rather simple task. The Raiders played a nickel defense for almost the entire season because they only had 2 healthy backers that they trusted to be on the field. Who were they and why was that? Let's see:

Danny Clark was the veteran middle backer. He's got enough speed and short-range quickness to play on the outside, but just barely enough. The Raiders have asked him to concentrate on the middle and he's done that very well. He can cover most TE's and FB's but he's a little slow to handle the quicker RB's in the league. He's a workhorse and a leader and should be an integral part of the defense for years to come.

Kirk Morrison is the rookie sensation. He is a pure middle backer who has great short-range quickness but lacks the top-end speed to handle RB's out of the backfield. He can hang with blocking FB's and TE's but not the pass catchers.

Tyler Brayton, DeLawrence Grant, and Grant Irons were all miscast as outside backers the last two seasons. Brayton has done the best job of converting to backer. He's got decent short-range quickness and the most football speed of the three. Grant was the starter last season but slipped to backup this season as Brayton showed more desire to play the position (or just be on the field). Irons was converted this season and didn't show too well out there because of it. Brayton has shown average ability to cover in the short zones and actually looked good on a couple occassions. The others looked lost in space.

Ryan Riddle looks like he might have a future as a hybrid DE/OLB he's got good short-range quickness and decent speed to go along with his size. He didn't see much field time, but when he did, he looked better than than any of the other tweeners.

Tim Johnson has good short-range quickness and decent speed, but he's probably only a middle backer. His coverage skills aren't special and he's a little slow to react in zones, but he's good at going forward in run defense and hits like bricks. He might be a little short and stocky but that hasn't hurt other middle backers in the game, but they've had better speed.

Sam Williams spent another season on IR. Williams has very good speed and short-range quickness. He can cover all but the quickest backs, but another freak injury makes one wonder if he can stay on the field long enough to rely on him as a starter.

Isaiah Ekejiuba spent most of his time on special teams where he showed plenty of enthusiasm and speed. He hits pretty well, but on special teams you can't tell too much about a guy's abilities in defensive situations.

So if I could count on Williams to be healthy next season I would be happy with Williams, Clark, and Morrison as my top 3 for a 4-3. Riddle would be a good backup for Williams and I could trust Johnson backing up Morrison in the middle. The toughest guy to replace would be Clark and I don't know what Ekejiuba brings to the table. Brayton might be a valuable backup if he could continue to drop a little weight and pick up some speed.

But even if Williams can stay healthy and Riddle could be a good backup, I think the lack of a backup for Clark is a glaring weakness. Clark plays a great game and stays healthy because of it, but losing him would be practically impossible to cover up. We could go to Willaims and Morrison like we did Clark and Morrison this season, but who wants to see us do that again. And replacing Morrison with Johnson also produced a slight but noticeable dropoff.

Realistically, the Raiders need to bring in two new backers. It would make sense for one to be a veterean and the other a rookie, but a veteran with enough talent would push for a starting spot that doesn't really exist if everyone is healthy (although it's a difficult decision I'd like to have at this position). But two rookies would leave us a little thin in experience if Clark were to go down.

The final question comes down to whether we'll try to run some 3-4 again. If we do then I'm okay with Brayton out there and Riddle is probably an up and comer there as well, but Grant and Irons should be depth on the DL not at OLB no matter what defense we're running.
 
What's a guy to do?

Nice Rupert. Very nice -- as usual.

Yes linebacker is a real problem. Trouble is we have two MLB's and can only play one in the middle which forces Morrision outside. He did a very nice job (especially for a rookie) but our depth is suspect as you stated.

I am banking on Sam Williams coming back strong and finally being able to stay on the field. Williams showed the kind of speed and nose for the ball at the end of last season that give me hope he is the real thing. It's a crap shoot but frankly he may just be a product of back luck. Look at Derrick burgess...guy has never played a full season in his life but when he did -- WOW!

Your analysis makes a good case for A.J. Hawk if he's there for the Raiders at #6 or #7 (apparently that has yet to be settled). But then you have to factor in Al's aversion for drafting linebackers in the first round much less that high. He's been burned every time he's done it. Frankly I don't see Al going with Hawk which might be a shame. Remember we passed on Ray Lewis to MOVE UP and take Rickey Dudley. Hindsight is 20/20 but man that was a mistake.

Really we have a lot of holes to fill...at LB, SS and on the OL. Having a guy like Mario Williams would solidifry the DL and give the opposing OC something to think about. Let's face it when Burgess had an off day or simply was dominated on a given Sunday, out pass rush stunk...more correctly it sucked! :p

Anyway, the draft forums will open as soon as I get around to it and we can rehash these points over and over for the next 4 months!

Again, thnaks for the great analysis of the linebackers!
 
Bones: You know, the odd thing was that whenever we went to the Dime, we left Morrison out there alone. I get it in the sense that he was solid against the run, but since he was barely adequate in coverage shouldn't we have left Clark out there? Clark also was a better blitzer. It seemed a strange thing to do, but we have been known to give up a 1st down on a draw or screen in 3rd and longer than you can imagine anyone would complete with regularity situations.
 
I read somewhere that Will Witherspoon will be a FA. Someone over at DH's place made a pretty good case for Witherspoon. Side-to-side speed and a constant motor. Sounds good to me.

Ben Leber (SD) might be an inexpensive yet solid aquisition as well. Certainly an upgrade over the Hydra of Bratyon/Grant/Irons - IMO.
 
Here's the issue, though. Morrison looks like the truth. Putting him on the weak side is playing against his strengths, yet he still had a very good rookie season. This is a guy we could put at MLB and feel damn good about it. At some point, we need to make that move.

Danny Clark...I love this guy. Problem is, we drafted Morrison, who appears to be a guy who's better at Danny's job. I like Danny Clark as a MLB, but I like Morrison there more. Problem is, Clark is not going to wow anyone as an OLB either. Again, I love the guy. But he can be upgraded.

Beyond those two, we have diddly-poo. That has to change this offseason. That has to change in a big way.
 
Crow said:
Beyond those two, we have diddly-poo. That has to change this offseason. That has to change in a big way.

Yeah, we need that guy that can cover a TE or play a zone, Morrison and Clark are virtually the same player, tackling machines, but no real nose for the ball or turnovers.
 
I wouldn't say that Morrison doesn't have a nose for the ball. He seems to be a guy, even as a rook, who could sniff things out. But he's not going to be someone you want to leave 1 on 1 with gates. He's not a guy who can put his hand on the ground on 3rd downs or blitz all that effectively...going on what I've seen in a year, anyway. We need that fast, instinctive, Sam backer who can run downfield with people and rush upfield with the ability to fight off blocks.

Some will say that we shouldn't be putting a LB on Gates anyway, but...at some point, it's going to happen. it's pretty much unavoidable.
 
WHAT!? You guys have forgotten Sam Williams? Dude is a credible SAM backer he works well in zones and has a nose for the ball. Problems? Well staying on the field for one. Two, he's not really going to stay with the fastest TE's out there (but few (if any) SAM's can).

I personally think Clark could be a credible Will backer. Part of the reason the Raiders left him inside was his experience in making the calls. The Mike needs to be the guy. But what I saw from Morrison tells me he would know how to make the calls.

Guys like Gates should really be covered by a DB, but if a team has both a fast RB and a fast TE you're going to have to make choices and be a little creative in coverages.

But even if we can count on Williams to stay healthy, there's no depth at all. Just lose 1 backer (like we did Williams this season) and you're hunting for a backer or playing the big nickel again.
 
Rupert said:
WHAT!? You guys have forgotten Sam Williams?

Absolutely. And fates willing, so has Al. Sam Williams best bet is as a rotational depth player. Unless the hand of "god" touches this guy, I don't see how anyon could put any faith in his ability to stay on thefield.

I personally think Clark could be a credible Will backer. Part of the reason the Raiders left him inside was his experience in making the calls. The Mike needs to be the guy. But what I saw from Morrison tells me he would know how to make the calls.

No arguments, but being credible and being good are two different things.

Guys like Gates should really be covered by a DB, but if a team has both a fast RB and a fast TE you're going to have to make choices and be a little creative in coverages.

Like putting Brayton in man coverage over him? Rob Ryan. :rolleyes:

But even if we can count on Williams to stay healthy, there's no depth at all. Just lose 1 backer (like we did Williams this season) and you're hunting for a backer or playing the big nickel again.

I like the big nickle. Big nickle works for me. We just need 2 new safeties and an upgraded D-line to run it.
 
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Rupert said:
WHAT!? You guys have forgotten Sam Williams?

Who? Oh yeah...the guy that has a permanent case of sand in the mangina.
 
"Coach! I need a sani-wipe!"

:eek:


At the risk of being repititious, this draft is loaded with LBs. If Al doesn't draft two, he's dumber than I thought.

I understand that we need DL and OL help...both of which being more critical than LB help...as well as a new safety or two. But damn. A draft this deep should see us land a decent player or two at at least 3 of those positions.
 
2nd and 3rd round backers, the keys to success!
 
JC said:
2nd and 3rd round backers, the keys to success!

Bobby Carpenter and A.J. Nicholson, maybe...

Bentley and Runyan in FA.

Mario in Rd1 makes this a helluvan offseason.
 
Well, I don't know about drafting 2 or Al's a dumbass. I've seen strong LB classes before and we passed on the whole damned thing. I just kept thinking to myself, what the HELL!

Al has always seemed to prefer veteran LB's, kind of like veteran QB's. Let them earn their stripes somewhere else and plug 'em in here. He doesn't have a BIG problem bringing in kids and starting them because it is defense, but I've always gotten the impression that Al would prefer it otherwise.
 
Rupert said:
Well, I don't know about drafting 2 or Al's a dumbass. I've seen strong LB classes before and we passed on the whole damned thing. I just kept thinking to myself, what the HELL!

You're right. Al being a dumbass is pretty much understood. I misspoke there. ;)

Al has always seemed to prefer veteran LB's, kind of like veteran QB's. Let them earn their stripes somewhere else and plug 'em in here. He doesn't have a BIG problem bringing in kids and starting them because it is defense, but I've always gotten the impression that Al would prefer it otherwise.

Yeah, he's got a thing for throwing Elijah Alexanders out there and feeling good about it. I'm kinda tired of seeing that, to be honest.
 
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