Season review -- Raiders LBs


Season review -- Raiders LBs

Having been totally rebuilt in 2010, the Raiders linebackers corps promised to be a strength in 2011. It was anything but. The second line of defense, coached by Greg Biekert and assisted by Ricky Hunley, was burned early and often. So much so that Biekert is purportedly on his way out of Oakland. Was it scheme? Desire? Talent? Injuries that hurt the group's depth? In a word, yes. Expect a new look in 2012.
Grade: FLINEBACKERSAaron Curry -- Acquired on a Thursday from Seattle for a seventh-round draft pick, Curry started at weakside linebacker for the Raiders three days later, supplanting Quentin Groves while bringing more energy and activity to the position than seen in years. But while the word on him that he lacked something in coverage skills was proven, Curry did seem reborn in Oakland. And yet, there was the occasional over-the-top moment, such as the poorly-timed 15-yard penalty, like the flag he received for boxing up the goalpost after returning a fumble six yards for a touchdown against Detroit that portended the Lions' comeback. Still, Curry did not have a sack for the Raiders but his 46 tackles ranked eighth on the team, despite his not joining the team until Week 6.RELATED: Aaron Curry 2011 game logs
Rolando McClain -- Oh boy, where to start? The No. 8 pick of the 2010 draft entered camp seemingly a changed player, saying he did not like the way he played as a rookie. And yet, many of the same issues arose -- unable to shed blocks, easily re-directed, taking bad angles. No, McClain is not (yet?) the game-changing MLB the Raiders envisioned when they took him out of Alabama in the mold of Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis. But those guys play inside in 3-4 alignments, same as McClain in college. Still, it was painfully obvious when he was not on the field. And his arrest in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., for allegedly firing a gun next to a man's head, cast a pall over the organization, especially his grinning-like-a-fiend picture as he was put into a police car. The Raiders lost four of five after the arrest, even as no disciplinary actions were taken against McClain by the Raiders. And yet, though it all, McClain wracked up the stats, going for 99 tackles (he had 85 as a rookie) with five sacks (he had 12 of one in '10). And get this -- he averaged 8.4 tackles per game and had three sacks and a safety after his arrest.RELATED: Rolando McClain 2011 game logs
Kamerion Wimbley -- After leading the Raiders in sacks with nine in 2010, Wimbley was due to get a bump in pay from 685,000 to almost 4.2 million thanks to a 3.5 million "buyback option." But the deal was found in violation of the league's "30-percent rule," so the Raiders used the franchise tag on him, guaranteeing him 11.3 million. But in an effort to create cap space, his deal was re-worked to a five-year, 48-million contract, with 29 million guaranteed. So Wimbley went from 685,000 to 29 million in a few months time. Did the strongside linebacker's play reflect the jump in paychecks? You be the judge. His tackles rose from 57 to 62, but his sacks fell from nine to seven. And four of those sacks came in one game, at San Diego, when Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeil was knocked out of the game by Curry.RELATED: Kamerion Wimbley 2011 game logs
Quentin Groves -- Despite being part of Oakland's rebuilding of their linebackers in 2010, Groves never seemed to have the complete faith of the coaching staff. It came to fruition after five games, when he was replaced by Curry. Still, Groves did not sulk. Rather, he became a high-energy standout on special teams and finished the season with 24 tackles. A looming free agent, even he admitted the day after the season finale that he had probably played his final game with the Raiders.RELATED: Quentin Groves 2011 game logs
Darryl Blackstock -- The UFL refugee had a history with defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, made the team coming out of camp and became the backup middle linebacker after Ricky Brown was lost for the season following Week 3. Blackstock appeared in all 16 games and had 20 tackles. But he struggled mightily in his one start, in place of the injured McClain, against Denver and Tim Tebow.RELATED: Darryl Blackstock 2011 game logs
Ricky Brown -- Signed late in camp after being released by New England, Brown was familiar with the Raiders having been in Oakland the previous five seasons. But the backup MLB suffered a concussion in Week 3 and was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve a week later.Travis Goethel -- The oft-injured sixth-round pick of the 2010 draft was being groomed to replace Groves on the weakside but blew out a knee early in camp and was placed on IR on Aug. 30. He was working out at the end of the season with trainers. Might he join McClain on the inside of a new 3-4 defensive alignment in Oakland next season should the Raiders decide to implement a new base defense?

LB Smith praises Raiders' turnover ratio, but wants much more

LB Smith praises Raiders' turnover ratio, but wants much more

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders defense gave up 344 yards Sunday while beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That sum’s a season low, still way too many for Malcolm Smith. The Raiders weakside linebacker has higher standards, even after one of two solid defensive efforts in seven games.

“That’s still a lot of yards,” Smith said. “We’re not where we want to be.”

Just because Sunday was better doesn’t mean it’s good enough. The Raiders defense ranks last in yards allowed and 22nd in scoring defense at 25.6 points per game.

There’s a main reason why the Raiders aren’t dead last in both categories. Takeaways.

The Raiders have plundered the opposition this season 13 times in seven games. Special teams got one Sunday on a muffed punt, but the defense has been incredibly active stealing possession.

Reggie Nelson has a nose for the ball, with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sean Smith and David Amerson have two picks each and Bruce Irvin leads the league with four forced fumbles.

Turnovers make all those yards allowed easy to stomach, and has kept the Raiders in several close games. The force big mistakes and don’t make many, proven with a plus-eight turnover ratio ranked No. 3 overall.

“It’s given us a chance to win some games, where you could just look at other statistics and say we wouldn’t have a chance.” Smith said. “That’s what the game is about, and us finding ways to compete. Hopefully we stay after it that way.”

The Raiders have stayed after it in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on just 50 percent of opponent trips inside their 20-yard line.

While big plays have brought wins and positivity to the defense, the season’s first half has been difficult for Raiders expecting more.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Smith said. “You come into the year with all these aspirations and things you want to do. When it doesn’t go your way you have to stay after it, keep putting the work in and know it’s not going to be wasted. Hopefully we’re making strides and those improvements will show on Sundays.”

The Raiders believe the defense is close to being good, and has done a solid job masking issues with takeaways and timely production.

“Our team has done a great job of competing to win games,” Smith said. “If we keep doing that, everything will be fine.”

Del Rio pleased with Raiders' mature attitude towards 5-2 start

Del Rio pleased with Raiders' mature attitude towards 5-2 start

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders were certainly happy they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars into submission. They jumped out to a strong halftime lead, played smart complimentary football and, at 33-16, ended up with a large margin of victory.

All, however, was not right with the world.

Derek Carr lamented settling for too many field goals. Latavius Murray wanted more efficiency from his runs. Defensive players saw progress in several deficient areas, still seeking greater cohesion and consistency.

[BAIR: Top 5 takeaways from Raiders' 33-16 win over Jaguars]

Sunday’s big victory over lowly Jacksonville was not a sign they've arrived. It was proof these Raiders remain a work in progress.

Records normally suffer with much to correct. These Raiders are 5-2, and feel better football’s ahead.

“That’s what is great about this team is that we haven’t played our best yet,” Murray said. “That’s a good feeling moving forward, knowing there are things you can get better at and you’re still 5-2.”

Winning while fixing things; that’s a coach’s dream. It’s also easier when players know it, that egos don’t expand and confidence doesn’t become arrogance.

“I like that part. I like the fact that we recognize it,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I’m certainly going to point it out. There are things that we have to do better. I think it’s healthy.

“You should enjoy the wins. You should feel good about the success. Take pride in it. We worked hard for it, but to have a healthy respect for what’s coming and the need to play better and the need to continue to grow as a football team as we go throughout the year. That’s a mature way to look at it, and I’m very pleased about that with a younger team.”

The Raiders are a confident bunch and have survived several games on guts, guile and turnovers -- a recipe for success with inconsistent production.

The Raiders defense believes it made strides in the Jaguars win, though there’s significant work remaining to be a decent defense. With the offense rolling, that’s all the Raiders need to be a top team. Defenders aren’t striving for decent. They want more, and believe that realizing potential could put them in position for a playoff push.

“This team has so much talent, with good coaches and good players,” cornerback David Amerson said. “The sky’s the limit. Once we all start clicking, we can go out there and beat teams 30-0. Once we get to that point, that’s when we can look towards the playoffs and things like that. We have just as much talent as any team in the league.”