Tahir Whitehead played 1,025 defensive snaps last season. That’s, you know, a lot.
Only four NFL linebackers were active for more, and that’s more about opportunity than availability.
The Raiders had 1,028 defensive snaps, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus. Whitehead played all but three.
That’s astonishing durability during a Raiders season of constant flux, when an older defense got younger fast due to in-season veteran attrition.
Whitehead’s steadiness was such a rarity that only six other Raiders defenders played more than half his total.
That’s a lot of time spent on the field, a lot of frustration accumulated over a disappointing 4-12 campaign where the defense simply didn’t have enough talent to compete.
Whitehead was surrounded by youth at season’s end, so he had to set a professional standard during trying times.
“We never wavered, just kept showing up every day even though the results weren’t what we wanted,” Whitehead said. “We still showed up every day and gave it our all.”
The 29-year old’s always in immaculate physical shape carrying a glass-half-full, but 2018 certainly had to take a mental and physical toll. The Raiders got beat regularly and Whitehead had some struggles, per PFF, with 12 missed tackles and 146.5 passer rating allowed in coverage.
It’s just not his style to focus on them. Check out the man’s social media feeds. He’s all about inspirational sayings and Scripture, sharing messages that keep you going strong. He found the positive from that time, spinning it forward to helping what comes next.
“That experience last year, just basically playing 100 percent of the snaps, allowed me to really grasp the system and understand the ins and outs of everything,” Whitehead said. “Now when we’re out there, I’m communicating with [new middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict] and he’s like, ‘Okay, dang, you got it.’ So, either one of us, we’re not taking out the brunt of the work, the whole thing and taking on all of that stress. We’re divvying it up and we’re just breaking it up to make it easier on everyone. Like, ‘Look, you give this call, you handle these checks. I’ll handle the other.’ Then everything works a lot smoother.”
Whitehead carries less weight than last year, with Burfict and established veteran Brandon Marshall around to shoulder the load. The Raiders could start all three guys – don’t sleep on Marquel Lee fitting in somewhere – with Burfict being a field general in the middle.
“When you add veteran guys like that with experience that have played a lot of great football in the league – B-Marsh has been to a Super Bowl, won the Super Bowl – that’s a major, major bonus,” Whitehead said. “And just the wealth of knowledge that they have being around the league for a long time. That helps the younger guys, that helps themselves to be able to go out there and see it from different sides just picking each other’s brain.”
Whitehead carries optimism into this offseason program -- especially with a deeper linebacking corps -- his second after signing from Detroit last offseason. It’s also his default position, a positive outlook the Raiders need to survive last season and improve in this next one.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Whitehead said. “You look at every position, you look on both sides of the ball, we definitely have the team to go out there and do something major this year. The biggest thing is that we just have jell together as quick as possible – that camaraderie – and make sure to continue to build with each other. You know, all pulling in the same direction and understanding that we’re all on the same team. The Raiders aren’t on our schedule. So, as long we understand that, we go out there every day with a purpose, we’re going to go handle business.”