Grading Raiders LBs

January 16, 2013, 10:45 am
Share This Post

We are into our review of the Raiders' 4-12 season by looking at each position group and assigning grades. Up next -- the linebackers…

Strongside LB Philip Wheeler -- Led defense in snaps (1,015) and total tackles (150, 98 solo), with 3 sacks
Middle LB Omar Gaither -- 20 tackles, 10 solo, in seven games, four starts
Weakside LB Miles Burris -- 138 total tackles most by Raiders rookie since 1994
Kaelin Burnett -- Special teams standout promoted from practice squad with six games to go
Rolando McClain -- Forced first fumble of career
Keenan Clayton -- Had five tackles on special teams
Travis Goethel -- Knee injury ended season in Week 10

At first glance, it would seem the Raiders did some good things at linebacker -- Philip Wheeler was the jewel of new general manager Reggie McKenzie's first free-agent class, fourth-round draft pick Miles Burris started 15 games and Rolando McClain was phased out. However, the fact is that linebacker coach Johnny Holland paid for the unit's overall performance with his job, and the group was really top-heavy with Wheeler and Burris.

When the two did make mistakes, they usually occurred with Wheeler going 100 mph and Burris still growing, with both types of mistakes being forgivable to coaches as even mid-season acquisition Omar Gaither was learning on the fly. McClain, though, has most likely played his final snap as a Raider. His green communication dot on his helmet was taken away in early October, then he was taken off the field in nickel situations, then slapped with a two-game unpaid suspension before being welcomed back as a scout team fullback. To top it off, he was inactive for the final three games of the season after telling the world via social media he was no longer a Raider. McKenzie had the last laugh there, no doubt.

After Aaron Curry flamed out and was cut and Travis Goethel suffered another season-ending injury, the linebackers corps needs reinforcements. Just 5 1/2 of the Raiders' franchise low-tying 25 sacks came from linebackers, with Wheeler authoring three. Oakland's defense was No. 18 against the run and No. 20 against the pass, much of which can be attributed to the play, or lack thereof at times, of the linebackers.

Then there's this -- Wheeler and Gaither are both unrestricted free agents, McClain should be gone by the start of the new league year on March 12, Burnett is an exclusive-rights free agent and, oh yeah, the Raiders still need a linebackers coach. Burris has said he'd be up for moving into the middle. Do-over, anyone? 

Grade: D