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Raiders desperate at LB, Tatupu could be it

Former Raider middle linebacker Kirk Morrison signed with the Buffalo Bills today, just a day after the Raiders were faced with the reality of being without backup middle linebacker Travis Goethel for the season. Morrison was considered one of the top candidates to replace Goethel on the roster. The Raiders’ need gets more urgent by the day and the market is drying up.

The Raiders came into the offseason with a need at weak side linebacker. Yet they didn’t draft anyone at the position or make any notable acquisitions in free agency. Now they need players at two linebacker spots.

The two big names that we were hearing more than any others were Lofa Tatupu and Kirk Morrison, the only two legitimate middle linebackers on the market. Now that list consists of just Tatupu.

He spent his entire six year career in Seattle where he was a Pro Bowler his first three seasons and an All Pro in his third season. His play has tailed off since then, however. After three seasons over 80 tackles, he had 69 tackles in his fourth season, played in just five games the next season, and was down to 58 tackles last season.

He visited the Raiders for a workout a couple of weeks ago and left without a contract. No way of knowing for sure why he was not signed. It could have been that the Raiders didn’t see anything they liked, or it could have been that the Raiders offered him terms that Tatupu turned down.

At the time the team was only in the market for a weak side linebacker. Now their criteria for a linebacker is different and Tatupu may just fit that criteria.

My theory for Tatupu not getting signed is that the Raiders like a lot of speed at weak side linebacker and Tatupu is not known for his speed. But at middle linebacker, world class speed is not quite as much of a requirement. And even if it was, what choice do they have?

Right now the Raiders are working with a skeleton crew at linebacker. Outside of Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley, there is no one who can be trusted to play every down if needed. Last season’s starter on the weak side, Quentin Groves, has not performed well and recently acquired Darryl Blackstock has not played well enough to make the team, let alone unseat Groves as the starter. Sam Williams is the back up on the strong side and his role on this team has long been more as a special teamer.

Trevor Scott played at weak side linebacker a couple of seasons ago but was switched back to defensive end last season. After being out most of training camp, he has been back to full strength the last couple days but it appears the team has no intention of trying him at linebacker again. He has gotten all of his snaps at DE despite the need at linebacker.

Rolando McClain did not practice for the second day in a row, for what Hue Jackson is saying is simply a coaches decision.

Said Jackson: “Any time I think it’s time to give a player a day off, that’s what I’m going to do. I just keep monitoring guys and watching them. That’s my job as a head coach, to make sure I keep these guys as healthy as I can.”

In McClain’s absence, Sam Williams has been the first team middle linebacker and Darryl Blackstock has been working with the second team. Both players have looked overwhelmed by the demands of the position. Williams knows it is very temporary and from the look of things, he would like to get back to the strong side and special teams.

“I just kind of do what I need to do, fill in where needed,” said Williams. “Just waiting until Rolando gets back out there practicing with us.”

The Raiders need to get on the horn and get someone in here soon so they can get to know the Raider defense and be ready by the start of the season. Tatupu is that guy.

I would not be surprised if the Raiders contact him again to gauge his interest in signing with the team. The team’s interest is now greater and Tatupu’s options have also been exhausted. There is just no other choice for either of them.

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