In 2013, the Raiders found a gem in veteran linebacker Nick Roach.
The ex-Bear was signed as a free agent and earned the starting job at middle linebacker. He became a leader and a solid performer, leading Oakland in tackles (112) while also forcing four fumbles, getting 5½ sacks and an interception.
He also was durable, playing every defensive snap of the season.
At just 28 years old with seven seasons in the NFL, Roach was coming into his own. The defense around him wasn’t very good, but Roach appeared to be a player on the rise.
But Roach lost all of the 2014 season because of a concussion suffered in an August preseason game.
Though he’s signed through 2016, it’s now becoming more apparent that Roach may also miss the 2015 season, as well – which means Oakland will again have to find a replacement for him.
Recently, Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Roach is still experiencing headaches from last year’s consussion. General manager Reggie McKenzie said the decision about when Roach will be able to play again will be up to Roach and the team’s medical staff.
“I am not going to rush him to play when mentally he’s not ready,” said McKenzie, who added that the team will need to look out for Roach’s welfare.
“As much as we’d love him to be our signal caller on defense, I don’t want to risk lifelong injury if he goes out there,” McKenzie told Tafur.
In Roach’s absence, the Raiders had to make due with Miles Burris, who made the switch from outside to the middle, and struggled at times. A recent Pro Football Focus report cited Burris as missing more tackles than average at his position.
The Raiders are likely to look for a linebacker in free agency or the draft who can come in to compete with Burris for the spot.
One possibility might be Nate Irving, wrote Bill Williamson of ESPN.com Tuesday. Irving, 26, was the starting middle linebacker of the Broncos for the first half of the 2014 season until he suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the final eight games. In playing for Jack Del Rio, the Broncos’ defensive coordinator who now is the Raiders’ head coach, Irving was in on 46 tackles in eight games, with one sack. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder from North Carolina State was in his fourth season with Denver but is now a free agent. As Williamson noted, Irving’s history with Del Rio and his likely low price tag (in coming off an injury) could make him a good fit in Oakland.
Josina Anderson of ESPN reported that several teams “are showing interest” in Irving.
If the Raiders address the need through the draft after the first round, some inside linebackers who might be available in the second through third rounds include Benardrick McKinney of Mississippi State, Stephone Anthony of Clemson, Hayes Pullard of USC, Taiwan Jones of Michigan State, Paul Dawson of TCU, Mike Hull of Penn State, Jake Ryan of Michigan and Ramik Wilson of Georgia.