Today, we continue the “Under the Raider” series that looks at players who are currently under the radar who look to be important parts of the 2009 Oakland Raider team. Last time, it was wide receiver Chaz Schilens, and today we look at a player on the other side of the ball in Jon Alston.
Jon Alston is a classic under the radar type player, as he joined the Raiders following one year with the St Louis Rams. With the Raiders, he spent part of 2007 in the practice squad before he was promoted to the active roster. His primary role in 2007 and the beginning of 2008 was as a special teams player. When Ricky Brown went down to injury, he stepped into the starting strongside linebacker position.
One of the biggest questions that surrounded Alston’s ability to be a strongside linebacker at the NFL level was his small stature. He is a speedster in the classic Raider mold, which has served him well on special teams. In 08 he took a direct snap from the center and ran for a first down on a fake punt attempt. He is also one of the key cogs in the Raiders special teams units that scored five touchdowns in 08.
Over the offseson, Alston has bulked up from 215 and added about 20 pounds. From my observations at minicamp and the OTAs, this has had no adverse affect on his speed. Alston was flying around the field, very often near the play. With it being a “non-contact” practice, there is no way to know for sure if he would have made the tackle. However, he did appear to be in the right place to bring down the ball carrier.
At the minicamp and organized team activities, Alston took all of the first team reps at strong side linebacker, despite the presence of last year’s starter Brown, who spent his time as the second team middle linebacker. Coach Tom Cable cautioned “not to read too much into that. We know what Brown can do on the outside, so we want to see what he can do in the middle.” However, taking all of the first team reps would seem to give Alston the leg up over Brown for the starting position.
In regards to the Raiders struggles against the run, and the Cable’s assertions that it wasn’t personnel issues, Alston said the following, “Look at anybody’s own life. If you ever want to prove something, you’ve got to know where you messed up, acknowledge that you messed up, then fix those problems piece by piece. Personnel is not going to be an issue. We have talent. Everyone knows that we have talent. It’s can we play together, can we be disciplined, how much do we care. That’s the test. I think what we have now is a new sense of vigor, especially under coach Cable, in making sure that we get this stuff done. It’s not just going to be, and that’s good enough. It’s got to be, every time we play good”
Watching Alston in practice, he looks like he is ready to “play good” every time. This does not mean that he will be on his way to the Pro Bowl, but expect to see him flying around making plays on both defense and special teams.
Patrick A. Patterson also covers the Raiders for Examiner.com.