For the first time in 89 games, someone other than Greg Biekert will be introduced as the Raiders' middle linebacker Sunday when the team opens its season at home against Seattle.
Napoleon Harris, who was the 23rd overall pick in the 2002 draft from
Northwestern, will patrol the middle after the team released Biekert on Monday. The ninth-year veteran requested for his release after the team asked him to take a $1.5 million dollar paycut and after being informed Harris would be named the starter.
Biekert, who signed with Minnesota later on Monday, started 89 consecutive games. Now, the Raiders will go with the younger and faster Harris. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder impressed the coaches with his athletic ability in both mini-camp and training camp.
Harris is capable of playing outside and inside linebacker but his ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline makes him a good fit in the middle. The added responsibility will be to play traffic cop in the middle and getting players properly aligned. Harris' physical ability is not the problem but is a long way from grasping the system as Biekert did.
"We're just all working together," Harris said. "I think I have the respect of the veterans. I have the same goals as they have and that's to stop the other team's offense. I kind of have to be the leader as far as making sure that the guys don't get out of their gaps."
Harris is certainly well protected with veterans. Defensive tackles Sam Adams and John Parrella, who combine for 18 years of experience, play in front of Harris. Outside linebacker Bill Romanowski is a veteran of 14 years and plays beside Harris. Free safety Rod Woodson is entering his 16th season and plays behind Harris.
"He has a lot of talent," Woodson said. "Any young athlete is going to make mistakes but over time every player really comes into his own."
Woodson is not the only veteran impressed by Harris' ability.
"He's an impressive young guy," said defensive end Trace Armstrong, who enters his 16th NFL season. "He's handled himself well on the practice field and in meetings. It's going to be an adjustment for him but he's going to be fine."