Even going into this season, the Oakland Raiders had concerns about their linebacking corps.
The starting unit – which figures to be Rolando McClain at middle linebacker and newcomer Phillip Wheeler and Aaron Curry on the outside – has been appraised as adequate. Nothing more, nothing less.
Wrote Bill Williamson, ESPN.com’s AFC West blogger, recently: “I don’t think the unit will kill Oakland, but it won’t be special, either.”
And that was before concerns surfaced about Curry's status for the regular-season opener.
The outside linebacker, who was acquired from Seattle during the 2011 season, has so far missed most of training camp and the team’s two exhibition games because of knee problems.
Though Curry returned to the team this past weekend feeling better after receiving treatments from a specialist in Los Angeles, Eric Gilmore of CBSSports.com reported Curry still isn’t ready to come off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
When Raiders head coach Dennis Allen was asked if he’s concerned about Curry being ready to play in Oakland’s season opener against the Chargers on Sept. 10, he said he is.
Allen said Curry needs to be able to practice and play in the exhibition season by a certain date in order to be ready to play against the Chargers.
“I don’t know what that date is, but we’re fast approaching that day where he’s either going to be out there ready to go or he’s not, because it’s not a game where you just show up and play,” Allen told Gilmore. “You got to get some work, you got to get some practice.”
In Curry’s absence, rookie Miles Burris of San Diego State has been in the starting lineup and getting lots of game action. Though the Raiders are very high on Burris, they had no intention he would be the starter. This season was to be a learning year for him while backing up Curry and Wheeler.
“It’s been great for Miles,” Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur, “but we’d certainly like to have a veteran player out there.”
Curry, however, still hasn’t been able to get up to full speed. Allen said the veteran linebacker’s knee problems haven’t allowed him to change directions well, which would render him totally ineffective.
“It’s one thing to run straight ahead full speed,” Allen told Tafur. “When he demonstrates that he can bend and change directions full speed, then he’ll be ready to go.”
If Curry’s knees continue to keep him off the field and he stays on the PUP list, Gilmore reports Curry would have to sit out six regular-season games before he could be activiated. If that should happen – or the Raiders put Curry on the injured-reserve list, making him ineligible to play in 2012 – Burris suddenly will be on the hot spot, forced into learning on the job.
Though the 6-foot-2, 246-pounder has good speed and an ability to rush the passer, Burris’ learning curve has been steep. And, in the Raiders’ new defensive scheme that features more multiple fronts, blitzes and coverages, Burris could struggle early in the season.
Burris, a fourth-round pick, says he’s still thinking too much instead of reacting quickly and instinctively. But, he says he can feel himself improving.
“I’m getting more comfortable within it (the scheme) and I’m just trying to stay in the playbook and make sure I’ve got everything,” he told The Associated Press.
Until then, he’ll continue to get most of the reps with the starting unit – and the Raiders will keep their fingers crossed that Curry can quickly recover.