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Raiders linebackers forging a 'blue-collar, gritty' identity

The players in the Raiders linebacking corps may not be household names yet, but there's no doubt they could become a problem for opposing offenses.

While it's a young group, there's more than enough talent in the position group to make an impact. Several of them have flashed early in their careers, with the hope of taking the next step in 2023. With a mixture of bruising run stoppers and former safeties, there's one common goal among the Raiders linebackers and the entire defense: create turnovers.

"On defense, we talk about defending the field, defending the situations, but it's also about being disruptive. And the No. 1 way to disrupt is to have turnovers," said defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. "It's one of the main emphasis points we make. It's something that we know we have to work on every day. Coach [McDaniels] is giving us plenty of opportunities in terms of periods and practice to be able to work it. So, we're going to try to instill it in everybody. You want a defense that's looking for the ball."

In the first two weeks of camp, the linebackers have certainly been looking for the ball. There have been several opportunities where Divine Deablo, Curtis Bolton and rookie Amari Burney have batted down balls in the passing game. Hopefully with time, the pass deflections will turn into interceptions, aligning with Graham's vision and free agent signing Robert Spillane's desire to have a "blue-collar, gritty defense."

"At the end of the day, there's not much difference between a two and a four-yard gain, but when you make those splash turnover plays, those really affect the outcome of games," said Spillane. "'How can I get my hand on a ball? How can I punch this ball out? How can I get in the passing window and maybe make that quarterback throw a few feet higher in the air, so I give my secondary time to make a play on the ball?' Good defenses get PBUs, make tackles, great defenses turn the ball over and score a touchdown. That's what we're looking to do."

As camp continues to run its course, the duo of Spillane and Deablo looks appealing. They complement each other well – Spillane as the hard-hitting downhill tackler and Deablo as a speedster in coverage that can tackle in open field.

"Divine is a great communicator. He's a great leader," Spillane said of his teammate. "He knows this defense in and out. He's been in the system, his second year [in it]. He's really taken great steps, and he's a great football player. At the end of the day, you want to surround yourself on defense with [11] hungry players who will do anything to get that ball. I love playing with him."

Luke Masterson is also setting himself apart in camp. The former Wake Forest safety-to-linebacker convert had to grind his way onto the 53-man roster last season as a UDFA. In his rookie season, he played all 17 games with seven starts, filling in amid injuries to the group. Now going into his second season, Masterson is keeping the mindset of fighting for a job.

"A lot of ups and downs," Masterson said while reflecting on his rookie year. "I would say there was some good games, some bad games. I just tried to learn every week from my mistakes and try and get better every play. Definitely trying to take that next step this year, learn from my mistakes last year. I have some core things that I'm trying to work on and get better at."

Masterson also holds his new teammate Spillane in high regard, saying the former Steeler "comes every day with a championship mindset" and brings an "infectious" energy.

With more reps together during camp, Deablo, Spillane and Masterson could create a fierce linebacking trio. However, there's more than enough competition within the unit for anyone to step up and stake their claim.

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