Rolando McClain is gone, as are Aaron Curry and Phillip Wheeler. Players who were expected to start at linebacker last season, or started, will no longer be wearing Raiders colors when the first practice of training camp is held Friday in Napa.
In their place have come veterans such as Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava, plus third-round draft pick Sio Moore of Connecticut to join second-year linebacker Miles Burris in the battle for starting spots.
On a team in transition, the linebacking corps has gone through a complete upheaval, and some outside the organization look at the unit as a glaring weakness.
Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com, for instance, ranked the Raiders linebacking corps as the worst in the NFL, noting the signings of Burnett, Roach and Maiava are nothing to get excited about, calling the group as a whole “the definition of replacement level.”
“They all would fit better as reserves somewhere, but they will start in Oakland,” he wrote this spring. “Third-round pick Sio Moore is the group’s best hope for the future.”
Roach, formerly of the Bears, is expected to be the middle linebacker, with Maiava and Burnett on the outside – if they can hold off Burris and Moore.
Burnett, for one, isn’t a player who’s been wasting away on somebody’s bench. Since being taken in the second round out of Tennessee by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2005 draft, Burnett has been a consistent NFL starting linebacker.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder started in Miami the past two seasons, playing all 32 games. Prior to playing for the Dolphins, he was a two-year starter for the Chargers and missed only three games with the Cowboys in his first four seasons in the NFL. He has 59 career starts, 525 tackles, 17½ sacks, seven forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Last season, Burnett, 30, had a career-high 110 tackles, 2½ sacks and a forced fumble. Dan Hanzus of NFL.com called Burnett a “potential value signing” by the Raiders, and noted he was graded by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s fourth best 4-3 outside linebacker in the 2012 season.
After being released by Miami in March, he was quickly signed by the Raiders.
Now, Burnett is eager to get training camp started and prove what he can do for his new organization and teammates. He spent much of this offseason in the Bay Area working out with his teammates (including younger brother Kaelin, also a linebacker) and learning the Raiders system.
“Everybody has been real receptive,” he told Rebecca Corman of Raiders.com. “It’s made for an easy transition. (The offseason) was just so fast. Everything happened at lightning speed.”
There’s no guarantee that Burnett will start, of course. Burris played well as a rookie and Moore has been impressive. Burnett says, however, that one of his roles as a veteran is to help the younger players. It’s a role he enjoys.
“As much as they learn from me, I learn from them, so I’m happy to be a resource for them and I want to keep learning with them,” he said. “I want to keep growing and let’s go out here and be the best we can be.”