Former Lion Adds Teeth to Raiders Defense

Veteran linebacker Tahir Whitehead is a vocal leader and tackling machine who wants to help turn Oakland's defense into a more physical unit

One thing has become clear in the Raiders’ recent installment of organized team activities (OTAs): the linebacking corps is going to be much more experienced than in recent years.

As Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted recently, former Chief Derrick Johnson, 35, and former Lion Tahir Whitehead, 28, will be two of the Raiders’ starters at linebacker this season.

Johnson will be the starter in the middle, with Whitehead on one side. With Bruce Irvin now expected to line up at defensive end, the other starter at linebacker will come from a group that includes Emmanuel Lamur and Nick Morrow.

The Raiders pursued both Johnson and Whitehead in free agency, with Whitehead getting a three-year deal that could be worth as much as $18 million. Whitehead, who was a fifth-round pick by Detroit out of Temple in 2012, is a 6-foot-2, 241-pounder who was a Lions starter the past four seasons, playing both inside and outside. The past two seasons, he’s been a tackling machine. In 2016 he was in on 132 stops; in 2017 he was in on 110.

Whitehead says he wants to help the Raiders build a personality on defense this season that is tough and physical.

“For me, I feel like I just want to get some more turnovers,” Whitehead told this week. “Force the ball out, get some forced fumbles, some (interceptions), because obviously from a personal standpoint, if I can go out there and create more of those turnovers that in turn help the team. ... Turnovers are key in this league, and as a defense that’s a goal of ours is to turn the ball over and give our offense a lot more opportunities because we have some firepower on that side of the ball.”

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther told the team website that Whitehead is  starting to get a feel for the defensive scheme at this point. The more familiar he becomes with it, the Raiders are seeing that he can be an impact player.

“He’s starting to get it,” said Guenther.

Last season, Whitehead was graded as the NFL’s 25th-best linebacker. He’s been effective as both an inside and outside player.

Whitehead says he brings a lot of intangibles to his new team as well as his ability to bring down ball carriers.

“That energy. That leadership. Going into year seven I have played a bunch of football,” he told reporters earlier this offseason. “I’ve missed one game over the course of six years. I believe that’s what I bring. I bring leadership. A guy that’s active. A guy who’s going to go out there and give it his all.

“You know exactly what you’re going to get from me day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out.”

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