The 2002 version of the Oakland Raiders' linebackers was a vast upgrade over recent years.
Fourth-year man Eric Barton lived up to his promise by enjoying a breakout season. Barton added playmaking skills to the weakside linebacker spot and applied the finer points of the game that he learned from the veterans that came before him. Barton showed tremendous pursuit skills and added six sacks.
The Raiders thought so much of rookie Napoleon Harris as a middle linebacker that they decided to let popular veteran Greg Biekert walk. Harris had a few ups and downs early but showed he can create impact type plays against the run and as a blitzer. He also showed adequate skills in pass coverage.
Bill Romanowski may never be mentioned in the same breath as the NFL's all-time elite linebackers. The 36-year old Romanowski, however, provided a swagger on and off the field.
Travian Smith provided speed off the bench. Smith displayed his big play skills amply as a blitzer off the corner.
All four except Romanowski are under 30. With the Raiders an estimated $48 million over the salary cap, Romanowski may wind up having to return at a more cap friendly deal.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com