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Oakland Raiders' Position Battles: Linebackers

Just a week out from when the rookies report to the Oakland Raiders Napa Valley Training Complex, our Position Battle series rolls on, as today we take a look at the Silver and Black’s linebackers.

In what has been the theme of the offseason, the team’s linebackers have undergone a huge transformation over the past several months, and while some familiar faces like Bruce Irvin and Marquel Lee are still in the fold, there’s a ton of new guys you’ll have to get used to seeing as well.

The linebackers are the de facto quarterbacks of the defense, so let’s take a look, top to bottom, at the Raiders linebackers on the roster as they head to training camp.

*James Cowser, who’s listed as a linebackers/defensive end, is included in this Position Battle.

Familiar Faces:

Shilique Calhoun

James Cowser

Bruce Irvin

Marquel Lee

Nicholas Morrow

New Guys:

Jason Cabinda

Derrick Johnson

Emmanuel Lamur

Azeem Victor

Kyle Wilber

Tahir Whitehead

Overview: Real quick, let’s just reflect on the 2017 season for just a second, if we may.

It’s no secret that the Silver and Black’s defense struggled, mightily at times, last year, but it really did seem like there were two defenses – the one before NaVorro Bowman joined the team, and the one after Bowman came aboard.

All that aside, Bowman joined the Silver and Black on a one-year deal, and as it stands now, the veteran linebacker is currently a free agent.

However, Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie certainly made sure to address that need, signing four-time Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson away from the rival Kansas City Chiefs.

The former All-Pro wasn’t the only addition that Gruden, McKenzie, and Co. made to the position group, as Emmanuel Lamur, Kyle Wilber and Tahir Whitehead were added in free agency, while Azeem Victor was picked up on Day Three of the NFL Draft.

To be honest, this is one of the more intriguing groups on the roster, and you should keep a keen on the combinations of players that Paul Guenther utilizes throughout training camp and the preseason.

Battle to Watch:

Eddie Paskal: Kyle’s going to touch on it a little bit as well, but I’m going to be watching, very closely, what trio of linebackers Paul Guenther ends up rolling with for the start of 2018.

Now, there are very few things set in stone as far as this roster is concerned, but conventional wisdom would suggest that Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead both have pretty good holds on two of the linebacker spots, leaving one up for grabs.

So, who’s going to take ownership of that third position on the outside? There, my friends, lies one of the more intriguing questions of training camp.

One would assume that Emmanuel Lamur and Nicholas Morrow would likely figure to battle it out, but I really wouldn’t be surprised at all if Azeem Victor or Kyle Wilber found themselves in the mix either.

Like I said, this really is going to be one of the best battles to keep an eye on in Napa; buckle up.

Kyle Martin: The Raiders linebackers have experienced a lot of turnover the last few seasons, but the hope is that will change going forward.

Like many of the position groups Eddie and I have discussed already (links at the bottom), Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie weren’t shy about addressing the need for veteran talent on the roster, and the linebacking corps was one of the areas of need.

Of all the groups to receive an excess of new additions, the linebackers might have the most new faces, and it’s for that reason I’m excited to see multiple players fight for starting positions in that unit.

Specifically, I’ll be watching the battle between Emmanuel Lamur and Marquel Lee.

Among the handful of young linebackers on the Raiders roster, Lee started the most games last year (six), and I think he’ll have to compete with Lamur to see more playing time. I think it’s widely assumed that Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson will start, but finding the third linebacker to round out the group will come down to Lamur or Lee in my opinion. Lamur hasn’t started a game since 2015, but he’s made a positive impression on the coaching staff in the early running, and at 6’4”, 245 pounds I think he fits the mold for Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme.

Storyline to Follow:

EP: Since he’s “technically” listed as a linebacker, I’m going to give Bruce Irvin a little bit of love here.

Here’s what I’m really looking forward to watching; is this the year No. 51 gets double-digit sacks?

Yes, yes, I know that technically we won’t get an answer to this query until January, but as a wise man once said, the building blocks of a season are laid in training camp.

Now, I also know that Irvin will almost assuredly be going forward a lot more than he has in years past, but we’ve also seen the past several seasons that the versatile linebacker is just that, versatile.

Irvin has come close a handful of times to reaching double-digit sacks – his career-high is eight – but with a new defensive coordinator, and a new scheme, I have a feeling this could be the year he breaks through the threshold.

KM: I think the clear story to follow here is how Derrick Johnson makes an impact on this relatively young team. As we all know, DJ has given the Raiders fits over the years, after suiting up in that awful Chiefs red the past 13 seasons. Even at age 35, Johnson has shown through Minicamp he can still play with the best of them, and he has a wealth of experience and knowledge that can be shared with those around him.

Last year, we saw the impact NaVorro Bowman made when he joined the team just before that memorable game in Week 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and I think Johnson can replicate that. With a savvy veteran who’s capable of commanding the defense, the Raiders should take a step forward defensively in 2018.

Keep an Eye on…

EP: Emmanuel Lamur is my guy here.

First things first; when you take a look at the former Minnesota Viking, you’re struck by just how physically imposing the man is.

Listed at 6’4” and 245 pounds, Lamur appears to be every inch of that, and while I know that pure measurables don’t result in production, being an absolute beast between the hash marks doesn’t hurt either.

Physical traits aside, Lamur has history with Paul Guenther, and while he doesn’t have a ton of starting experience under his belt right now, I think 2018 could be a big year for No. 54.

Lamur is my dude.

KM: The development of Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow.

Just a pair of rookies last season, the duo made their way into the starting lineup for almost half the season. Morrow started five games, while Lee started six, and each demonstrated they can play in this league.

The two combined for 79 tackles and four passes defensed, but the team will need more from them in 2018. Those aren’t staggering numbers, but Lee and Morrow were productive given the playing time they were allotted. Sophomore seasons are still considered part of a young players maturation process, and I expect both to show signs of improvement considering they have plenty of veterans around them to learn from now.

MORE POSITION BATTLES:

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