Tahir Whitehead signed with the Oakland Raiders on March 12, but the team knew long before then it needed to upgrade its linebacking corps headed into the 2018 season.
The middle of the field has been an area the Silver and Black have needed to address the last couple seasons, with several young, and raw players getting run at the crucial position, but the signing of Whitehead is set to help that.
28 years old, in the prime of his career, the former Detroit Lion is coming off back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons, and he's ready to help turn a Raiders defense that struggled to force turnovers in 2017 around this season.
"For me, I feel like I just want to get some more turnovers," Whitehead said. "Force the ball out, get some forced fumbles, some INTs, because obviously from a personal standpoint, if I can go out there and create more of those turnovers that in turn helps 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."
Just a couple months into his career with the Raiders, Whitehead has wasted no time becoming a vocal leader on defense. In his element, even on the practice field, you can hear No. 59's deep, and commanding, voice ring out above all the chatter from players standing on the sideline, and the coaches barking at players on the line of scrimmage. His authoritative demeanor has caught the attention of his teammates, specifically veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson.
"Tahir Whitehead is a guy that is very vocal. Very vocal," Johnson emphasized. "These guys, even Emmanuel Lamur, they're very vocal."
Whitehead believes because of his vocal nature - as well as his track record - many of the younger players on the team respect him, and listen intently.
"They're like sponges," he said. "The younger guys in their second year, Marquel [Lee], you have Nicholas [Morrow], and that's generally when you take that leap. Me, this is my seventh year, and I know how crucial it is to have a good veteran guy to really bring the other guys along. I'm really just taking that role and trying to do exactly that, and I think they've been extremely receptive, and it's encouraging. I think we have something special, we have a great group of guys in the linebacker room, and on defense, really the whole team, so I'm excited."
The Raiders have a young core, and helping speed up the maturation process is yet another job Whitehead is focused on; however, learning Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme is the main objective. In a new system, with new teammates, Whitehead is grasping how Guenther wants his defense to play this season.
"In the beginning he was just trying to learn it all on his own," Guenther said Tuesday. "Now he's starting to get it. He's starting to see the bigger picture. We explain to these guys, you have three phases of the OTAs. OTA #1, I do all the installing. OTA #2, I start all over again. In OTA #3 I get them to come and put it on the board. OK, Tahir, you're the WILL linebacker. You get this hat, let's see what you're going to do. The defensive end hears it in front of him, the three-technique, the free safety behind him, so he can see the big picture when you go up and see how it fits together. I think he's really starting to see the big picture now as we start moving forward."
Not only is the six-year veteran beginning to see the big picture, but he serves an important role in the grand scheme of things going forward. Head Coach Jon Gruden has expressed repeatedly his desire to bring the Raiders signature style of old-school, smash-mouth football into the present, and it just so happens Whitehead shares that same goal.
"My goal is really just to help the team in any way possible, that's the goal for me. To go out there as a linebacker you want to make a lot of tackles, just doing everything in my power to make sure we can turn things around and get back to playing Raiders football."
With Mandatory Mini-Camp, Training Camp, and the regular season just around the corner, get ready to see a throwback brand of Raiders football, and the leadership of Tahir Whitehead on full display.
Head out to the practice fields and see exclusive practice photos along with a visit from MC Hammer at Raiders HQ.