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Training Camp 101 – Part two, Defense

Dennis AllenTFDS recently covered the offense in preparation of next week’s training camp.  Now, we will look at the defense.

Dennis Allen will certainly be hands on with this defense, trying to tweak it to fix the issues that have plagued the unit for years.  It may not happen instantly, but with the help of first-time DC Jason Tarver they’ll have this defense ready for the season.


Strong-side Linebacker: Philip Wheeler vs Miles Burris

LinebackersPhilip Wheeler was brought in as FA after spending his first four years with the Indianapolis Colts, playing in the cover-2 defense that has been there since Tony Dungy was head coach.  Built more like a safety then a linebacker, Wheeler has quick feet and a good ability to back pedal to keep plays in front of him.  These skills make him a good LB in zone coverage which the Raiders are expected to run much more prevalently this season.

Wheeler was a DE in college so he does have some pass rush skills.  Due to his slighter build he sometimes struggles shedding blocks, but he takes good angles to make the tackle and shows more in run game then passing game even so.

Miles Burris was drafted in the 4th round in this years draft.  He is a versatile, all round linebacker with no particular elite skills but no glaring flaws, either.  His skills allow him to play in multiple linebacker positions but he’ll start his NFL career at Outside Linebacker.

Burris is a “hustle player” and is all over the field.  He’s an above average athlete that can rush the passer, stuff the run and be a factor in coverage.  He has a tendency to overpursue run plays at time but has the hustle to make up for it.  His transition to coverage assignments in the NFL will be a challenge that that’s true of most college LBs.

Winner: Philip Wheeler will have starting spot but don’t be surprised when Burris is rotated in, consistently.

Middle Linebacker: Rolando McClain vs Travis Goethel

Rolando McClainRolando McClain was drafted by Raiders with the 8th overall pick in 2010 draft.  McClain has shown flashes of being a good player but he hasn’t shown enough consistency and he seemed to regress last season however he was also reportedly dealing with an injury.  The hope is that  Dennis Allen, a respected defensive mind, will be able to get him playing to his potential.  Alternately, McClain could be suspended by league for incident in Alabama on 1/12/2011.

Travis was selected by the Raiders in the 6th round, also in 2010, but hasn’t seen the field during an actual game because he’s been injured the past two years.  During camps he’s shown solid skills in the run game.  Travis is much stronger in run support and needs to work on his skills in coverage but so does McClain.

Winner: Rolando McClain unless he’s suspended.  In that case, Goethel will be asked to fill in.


Right Side Cornerback: Shawntae Spencer vs Demarcus Van Dyke vs Chimdi Chekwa

Shawntae SpencerShawntae Spencer was brought in as a free agent this season on a one year deal.  Spencer played with the 49ers his first 7 seasons, registering 345 tackles,11 interceptions and 2.5 sacks.  He is 6’1 and built to play the press just like fellow CB Ron Bartell.

DVD and Chekwa were drafted last year in the draft with both showing potential to maybe start in the future.  While one of them could take the leap and steal the starting role both have their issues in coverage and making the transition to the NFL.  Both DVD and Chekwa were considered projects coming out.

Chekwa was taken later than DVD but showed more promise in training camp, making some good plays in coverage.  Unfortunately, he suffered an early camp injury that continued into the season and eventually was done for the year.  With an entire offseason this year he could step up and win a big role if he can build on last year’s early promise.

DVD was thrust into the starting lineup last season due to injuries and showed some promise.  He, like Chekwa, showed promise but was also very raw drawing the ire of many fans by being close to his man but never able to make a play.  DVD is a physical specimen but needs to work on his recognition skills and will likely learn much from seasoned veterans Spencer and Ron Bartell about the nuances of the position.

Winner: Shawntae Spencer, for now.

Dark horses:

Kaelin Burnett, OLB/DE:  Kaelin Burnett, an undrafted free-agent out of Nevada, put up solid numbers at his pro day and impressed scouts with a 4.5 40 yard dash. At  6’4″, 255 lbs, he can likely play OLB and while also tranistioning to DE in nickel and dime formations (like Kamerion Wimbley formerly did for the team).  Burnett showed up in OTAs by consistently getting pressure on QB or stuffing the run game and if he is able to continue that, he could get reps with the first team could happen in the future.  First team or not, Beezy (Burnett’s nickname) will be making plays come Sundays either starting or off the bench.

Pat Lee, CB:  Pat Lee was brought over from Packers as a FA.  Reggie McKenzie already knows him from his own days in GB and was part of the front office that drafted Lee in the second round in 2010 draft out of Auburn.  Like most of the DBs brought in, Lee has good size for the position, standing 6’0′, 195 lbs, and should be able to suceed in press coverage.  Lee was hampered by injuries and didn’t get to see the field as much as he would like in GB, but still has the potential to maybe push for the RCB spot or, at least, a nickel CB position when healthy.

Brandon Underwood, DB:  Another one of the players Mckenzie has brought over from the Packers. Underwood stands at  6’2″, 205 lbs.  He has played CB and S in for GB when he has been on the field.  Unfortunately, that has not been often due to off field issues and injures.  It will be interesting to see where we he fits in or if he doesn’t when camp rolls around.

Aaron Henry S:  Aaron Henry is a UDFA out of Wisconsin.  Because he played in the Big 10, I’ve had a chance to watch a lot of him.  Henry is a converted cornerback that has good man cover skills for a safety but lacks the athleticism to be an elite player.  However, he can show enough to move to to number 2 on the depth chart in front of Giordano.

Dark Horses to make the Squad:

Mario Kurn LB: UDFA that led the FCS in Sacks his Junior year with 17 and then added another 12.5 his Senior year.  Kurn is a tad small to be a DE in the NFL and will need to adjust to the level of competition more than others but has the ability to play in the league.

Chaz Powell DB: UDFA. Great special teams player as a returner and gunner.  Played WR and DB at Penn state.  Will play in the secondary at Raiders.

Wayne Dorsey DE: UDFA. Ex-5 star recruit that likely would have been drafted had he not broken his arm during the season.  Big, lean and athletic; he’ll likely make the PS at worst.

Top 5 questions heading into camp:

– Who’s going to play NT in 3-4 formations?

– If  Kelly is going to be NT can he play there efficiently?

– Who will step up to be Oakland’s speed rusher?

– Can DE Lamarr Houston show enough to be an every down player?

– Is Matt Shaughnessy going to be fully back after an injury that cost him all of last season?

For more Raiders analysis from Tyler, follow him on Twitter @Raiderpedia