Oakland Raiders 5 Biggest Training Camp Battles for 2014

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Aug 23, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders linebacker Nick Roach (53) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) after Cutler bobbled the snap during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

#1- Linebacker’s

So we’ve made it to the position battle that I believe will be the most pivotal in 2014.  Why you ask?  Due to the fact that we have 11 LB’s trying out for 6 or 7 roster positions, and the LB position itself is the QB of the defense.  Therefore, it is one of the most important positions on the field.  Especially nowadays in the pass happy, screen throwing, NFL.

Hybrid LB’s have been created solely for the purposes of getting after the QB and stuffing the underneath passes.  Faster slot WR’s have called for more agile and athletic LB’s, along with the addition of the lights out speedster’s catching the short screen passes.  Defenses have been engineered to disguise how many rushers they have by putting LB’s on the line of scrimmage before they drop back into pass coverages.

What does this mean for the Raiders?  Well, it used to be that you lined up in a basic 4-3 or 3-4 set before most NFL plays.  On pass plays a Nickel or Dime package was set in motion.  However, QB’s learned to pick those defenses apart with disguises and counters, etc…  Now defensive coordinators must come up with masks of their own in order to make things seem different than they really are.  Enter in the Hybrid LB.  A versatile, athletic, agile, and fast player, different from the big muscular strong men of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.

Enter in 1st round draft pick Khalil Mack (#52).  Mack’s already turning heads in camp with his work ethic and fast learning ability.  He has more than easily solidified himself a roster position, but he will be in a battle with Kevin Burnett (#94), Sio Moore (#55), and Miles Burris (#56) for a starting OLB position.

Nick Roach (#53) had an outstanding season at MLB for the Oakland Raiders where he led the team in tackles with 112.  He also had 5.5 sacks, 3 passes deflected, and he forced 4 fumbles.  Those are the numbers you want to see from a Raiders MLB.  I do have to add this bit about Roach.  Last year, before the season began, I told Raider Nation that he was going to be a stud MLB for the Raiders.  I’m so glad he didn’t disappoint.

Not to be completely outdone, Kevin Burnett came in second on the team for number of tackles with 105.  Burnett also sacked the QB 2.5 times, intercepted one pass, deflected 4 passes, forced 3 fumbles, and recovered one fumble.  Both Roach and Burnett played in all 16 games and they amassed Pro-Bowl calibre numbers.  Dependent upon whether or not Burnett’s injury becomes an issue that plagues him, both of these players make the roster.

Sio Moore had a very good rookie season getting to the QB 4.5 times, and I believe he will continue to grow upward as a player.  He makes the team easily.  After that, it’s pretty much a crap shoot.  Miles Burris is only a question mark due to the fact that he’s had a hard time staying healthy.  If he can make it through camp injury free, he will make the team and share time on either side of the field at OLB.

The biggest battles and question marks in my book are going to be between Kaluka Maiava (#50), Marshall McFadden (#54), Kaelin Burnett (#95), Justin Cole (#46), Carlos Fields (#44), and Bojay Filimoeatu (#47).  After the aforementioned 5 LB’s, there’s only one or two roster spots left.  Your guess is as good as mine.  Maiava backed up Roach, but he never saw much playing time.  Kaelin Burnett is the younger brother of Kevin Burnett, and that may be the deciding factor for him.  The hope is that little brother can eventually fill the shoes of his older brother, but that remains to be seen.  With the addition of Mack, Ka. Burnett’s future with the team became a bit more clouded.

Marshall McFadden was eventually moved from the practice squad to the active roster when Maiava was placed on IR, but only as a backup to Moore and the Burnett’s.  So his future as an active player is in the balance of a few things, but bleak to say the least.  Justin Cole is a 4 year veteran of NFL practice squads, and the other two, Fields and Filimoeatu, are undrafted rookies.  There’s not much hope there unless they can totally impress the coaches in some fashion.  Unfortunately for them, that probably won’t happen with the other LB’s on the list ahead of them.