Replacing the infamous Rolando McClain, all eyes were on Nick Roach during Saturday’s training camp session in the Napa Valley as the former Chicago Bears linebacker displayed all of the talents that made him such a prized addition for Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen.
Roach displayed his talent in pass coverage making a nice play in breaking up a pass on Darren McFadden during the first drill of the day before continuing to make plays in the non-contact session, impressing the media and fans who flocked to the field on the weekend. Most importantly, Roach impressed Dennis Allen.
Roach is in the middle of a retooled defense that could have as many as nine new starters. Yet none is more important to the new Raiders than Roach, who has the experience of playing with the vaunted Chicago Bears linebacking core and is versatile in playing both inside and outside linebacker during his career. That experience and versatility makes Roach the most qualified Raiders linebacker and someone Allen says he is counting on to revamp a woeful Raiders defense from last season.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with him as a young man, the way he goes about his business,” Allen said during the Saturday presser. “He’s extremely smart. He’s just as good against the run as the pass. He was outstanding in Chicago, but he just happened to be in the shadow of Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher.”
During passing drills, Roach managed to stay with fleet running back Darren McFadden on a corner route, breaking up a pass in the end zone. When practice came to a close, Roach met McFadden in the backfield on a draw play, withdrawing upon contact in the non-padded session.
Despite being a favorite to start for the Raiders this season the underrated Roach still takes training camp seriously, doing whatever he can to impress the coaches.
“In my mind, you’ve got to make them see something in you to keep you around because it’s performance-based,” Roach said.
That attitude is a breath of fresh air when compared to McClain, one of the worst players to play for the Raiders organization (and that includes JaMarcus Russell).
McClain was an enigma from the day he arrived as the No. 8 pick in the first round out of Alabama in 2010 to when he was suspended last season after a confrontation with Allen, ending his short and embarrassing career in Oakland.
Beyond being a bust on the field, McClain was a bust off the field as a person as well. His issues with law enforcement in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., were well-documented.
Signed by the Baltimore Ravens after the Raiders cut him this offseason, McClain abruptly retired from football. Now Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen opt for high character players, the type that are the polar opposite of McClain. They want winners.
Roach displays all the qualities Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie hold dear.
“I talk about guys that we want on this team that love football, are willing to work and put the team first,” Allen said. “He epitomizes all three of those characteristics.”
Oakland’s defense will be young and unproven this season and with Sio Moore and Kaluka Maiava injured already to start training camp (Allen is practicing a secretive policy on injury statuses) the Raiders linebacker picture is murky. Still Roach is a diamond in the rough by all measures and will more than likely turn heads around the league as he gets a chance to showcase the abilities that kept him around one of the most talented defenses in the league for most of his career.
Allen might just be able to count on Roach to turn around the Raiders defense a year ahead of schedule.