The linebackers have been a bright spot for the most part of the season, but I think the injury to Sam Williams has really opened my eyes to another problem. He was replaced on the field by Robert Thomas, who has done a mediocre job. The thing that concerns me is that Williams has been cleared to play in the last 4 games, but hasn’t seen the field, except for on special teams. If Sam is healthy enough to play on special teams, then why isn’t he starting at outside linebacker? I know Williams has struggled at times, and has problems staying healthy, but the front 7 of this Oakland Raiders’ defense needs his size.
Both Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison play smart, quick (4.5 40 yard dashes), and carry a work ethic that any player, young or old, should try to embody. But they also share the same weakness: being smaller (6′ 2-3″, 235-240lbs) and a little bit weaker (benching 225lbs only 22 times) than most NFL linebackers. So what they need is a player like Williams (6′ 5″ 255lbs, 28 reps at the bench press) to push around the bigger guys, and to plug running lanes.
Now I’ve gotta admit I am a little biased when it comes to Sam Williams. I played pee-wee football against him, so let’s just say I want him to be more successful than he’ll probably ever be. I might not be analyzing him the same way I do other players, but I am sure that the physical skills that a 6’ 4”, 250lbs man brings are exactly what the Raiders need. I’m too biased to know if Williams has the football smarts to put his skills to work the way they’re needed, so I don’t have the answer at the weak side linebacker position. But I do know that Robert Thomas is not the answer.
There is no ceiling for Morrison and Howard to hit, as long as they have a counterpart to bring a physical presence that’s been missing all season long.
Who to watch: John Alston- the 224lbs linebacker with a lineman’s bench (30 reps at 225lbs) is strong, smart (Stanford Grad), fast (4.5 40), but undersized (6’0”). He knows how to play, but doesn’t really have a place on the Raiders (playing behind Howard). He might not end up making an impact on the Raiders, but I believe he’ll find a place somewhere in this league.