One story in a series, looking at position breakdowns for the Oakland Raiders, who arrive for training camp in Napa, CA, on July 24. Today – a look at linebacker:
This position would have been considered a concern for the Oakland Raiders before the start of last season – but not any more.
The Raiders have a solid mix of youth and experience at linebacker. Bill Romanowski, a 16th year veteran, may never be mentioned as an all-time elite at the position but the work ethic, savvy and swagger he brought after signing as a free agent from Denver proved infectious to the entire defense.
Oakland was so confident in rookie Napoleon Harris that it decided to release longtime starting middle linebacker Greg Biekert. Harris, now entering his second year, validated that belief by steadily improving each week. Look for Harris to be that much better this season.
Weakside starter Eric Barton enjoyed a breakout season by leading the team in total tackles and tackles for lost yardage. Look for Oakland to continue finding creative ways to use Barton as a blitzer.
Travian Smith has been a career special teams standout and occasional fill-in at linebacker but the Raiders seem to have found a niche for him defensively. Look for Oakland to continue using him as an outside ‘backer who excels as a pass rusher in the 3-4 alignment.
The Raiders drafted Sam Williams as a linebacker in the third round from Fresno State and Shurron Pierson as a defensive end from South Florida in the fourth round. Oakland, however, may try Williams as an end and Pierson as a linebacker.
Tim Johnson enters camp as a bubble choice but showed that he can be a contributor on special teams.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org