Raiders

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

The Raiders have searched long and hard for stability at middle linebacker. They haven’t had much luck recently, no matter who has been picking players.

Let’s call it the curse of Rolando McClain, a wasted first-round pick that exemplifies the team’s issues filling an important position. Only Perry Riley and NaVorro Bowman offered partial-season respites during this middle linebacker drought, and neither player re-signed with the club.

Nick Roach, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, Miles Burris and Derrick Johnson all have tried and failed to stabilize the position. Still-developing Marquel Lee, a rare linebacker drafted to play the middle, was thrust into a starting role but didn't stick and has been used on the strong side. The Raiders haven’t selected a middle linebacker before the fourth round since McClain, choosing largely to go the veteran route inside.

Vontaze Burfict enters as this year’s attempt to get the middle linebacker spot right. Brandon Marshall also is in town and capable of playing inside and out, as the Raiders hope to establish veteran leadership running Paul Guenther’s defense.

Burfict has spent most of his career as Guenther’s field general, and having him here should open previously closed chapters of an extensive playbook. Burfict was helpful running practice reps and meetings during the offseason program, already proving to be a valuable resource to his new team.

He must remain available and productive to stay that way. Burfict has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which has hampered his effectiveness. Will he be a three-down player inside? Even two would be helpful, considering Tahir Whitehead’s lineup regularity and comfort with the defense.

Marshall also can fill the middle, proving a solid Plan B if Burfict struggles. Having veteran options playing in front of a developing corps including Jason Cabinda, Lee and Nicholas Morrow should be better than previous seasons, where the Raiders never seemed to have a backup plan.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

Burfict has been impactful already, but we haven’t seen much of Marshall. The former Bronco missed most offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.

These older veterans have been producers in the league but skepticism is fair until they show old form during the regular season. Can Burfict and/or Marshall succeed where previous players have struggled?

It’s worth keeping a keen eye on the middle linebacker spot and the position group as a whole, which must improve for the Raiders' defense to run well this regular season.

Raiders' Josh Jacobs has lofty receiving goal in his second NFL season

Raiders' Josh Jacobs has lofty receiving goal in his second NFL season

Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had a tremendous rookie season. If not for a late-season shoulder injury, he likely would have been named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Alabama product is firmly situated as the lead back in what should be an improved Raiders offense in the team's first season in Las Vegas. The Raiders added pass-catching weapons Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards and Nelson Agholor in the draft and free agency, and Jacobs himself intends to be an improved receiving threat for quarterback Derek Carr (h/t Raiders Wire.)

"I worked on a lot of things that receivers do,” Jacobs said Wednesday at training camp. "Not just running-back routes, like how to get off the line, how to stack on top once you get vertical. I’ve just been working on all the little technical things that receivers do. Just trying to implement that into my own style and bring what I can to the table."

"My goal is to catch at least 60 balls this year," he added.

[RELATED: Raiders' Ruggs shows potential with wild one-handed catch]

Jacobs hauled in 20 receptions for 166 yards as a rookie, so that goal would represent quite a significant jump if attained. He certainly has the athleticism and ability to increase his reception total, but given the additional receiving talents on the roster, he might find it difficult to get that kind of volume. After all, there are only so many balls to go around.

Nonetheless, that's the kind of attitude the Raiders surely love to see out of one of their core offensive building blocks. There's every reason to expect Jacobs will improve upon his rookie season, and not simply as a runner.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski embracing challenge as anchor of defense

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USATSI

Raiders' Nick Kwiatkoski embracing challenge as anchor of defense

Timing sometimes being everything in life, it was almost too perfect that Nick Kwiatkoski finally got his chance to start on a consistent basis over the last seven games of last season.

Circumstance had previously blocked that possibility. A talented young linebacker with sideline-to-sideline and three-down play capability, Kwiatkoski was the victim of an extraordinarily talented Chicago Bears defensive roster that was particularly strong at linebacker.

On many other teams, he would have been a starter. In Chicago, he was a reserve.

But then came the opportunity for consistent playing time when Danny Trevathan went down with an injury in November. Kwiatkoski was inserted into the lineup. And with free agency pending and his long-range prospects uncertain, it was finally his time to show he could be counted on as a full-time starter.

Read more at the Las Vegas Review-Journal