Tahir Whitehead happy to have more veteran help on Raiders' defense


Tahir Whitehead happy to have more veteran help on Raiders' defense

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.”

Ranking Raiders fans' most hated players, coaches from recent history

Ranking Raiders fans' most hated players, coaches from recent history

In their heyday, the Raiders were the wild renegades of the NFL with Al Davis unafraid to challenge or confront any and all.

That will earn you a lot of enemies. And it did. Raiders history is filled with opposing players and coaches that got a dose of vitriol and anger flung at them from Raider Nation.

Of course, Franco Harris would be atop the list with the "Immaculate Reception" proving to be a forever dagger in the hearts of the Silver and Black. One that sparked a Raiders-Steelers rivalry whos embers still flicker.

[RAIDERS TALK: Listen to the latest episode]

But let's focus on the past 25 years and take a trip down memory lane to look at opponents and former Raiders who drew the ire of Raider fans from Los Angeles to Canada and Oakland to Australia.

5. John Elway and Mike Shanahan, Denver Broncos

The first on our list of opponents is a dual AFC West threat which bruised the Raiders for almost two decades.

While Elway's career 13-15 record against the Raiders isn't a big issue, the golden boy still diced up plenty of Raiders defenses and finally got over the hump with Shanahan when they won back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 90s.

Of course, Elway was meant to be a Raider. The Silver and Black were primed to send three first-round picks and two second-round picks to the Baltimore Colts to draft Elway in 1983, but NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle vetoed the deal.

Almost two decades later, Shanahan, a former Raiders head coach who had a long, ugly history with Davis, helped get the monkey of Elway and the Broncos' back. Salt in the wound all around.

4. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

We don't need to spend too much time on Kelce. His personality itself is one that will draw the ire of opposing fans everywhere.

Add to it that the Raiders see Kelce twice a season and he constantly carves them up and never lets them forget it and you have a very hated division rival. He's the type of player who gets into a beef with the opposing punter (shoutout Marquette King) and has a reality television show in which he tries to find love. No one outside of Kansas CIty is going to be a huge fan.

Imagine Kelce could move hire as his career draws on.

3. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers/Indianapolis Colts

Newer Raider fans might look at the past two seasons and see a washed quarterback whose arm had fallen off and wonder why he makes the list.

Long-time Raider fans know the pain Rivers brought to the Silver and Black during his prime with the Bolts. Rivers is 18-10 against the Raiders in his career and an impressive 9-5 at the Coliseum. Like a gnat at a barbecue buzzing around your head, Rivers never failed to talk as much trash as possible no matter if the score was 34-3 or 17-16. Couple that with the "golly gee whillikers" and the "gosh darn its" that replaced normal swear words (Rivers doesn't cuss) and you've got one annoying division rival who owns you.

2. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers

LT ran all over the Raiders during his time as a Bolt and he wasn't shy about letting the folks in the Black Hole know about his dominance.

He ran for over 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns against the Raiders while his teams went 14-5 against the Silver and Black. Tomlinson is an all-time great and those are fun to have on your side. Less so when they are tearing your defense apart on two Sundays every season.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Some hatred is born from familiarity and a 1,000 cuts. The division rivals listed above you're forced to see twice a year and are born to hate.

Others are born from circumstance. The Raiders have only faced Brady six times in his legendary career, but once was more than enough.

The 2001 AFC divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Raiders, more aptly known as "The Tuck Rule Game," helped spark the NFL's next dynasty and kept the Raiders from what they believe was a trip to the Super Bowl.

Brady, as dorky as he might be on social media, never will let the Raiders forget the play either. Last time the Raiders arrived in Foxboro, Mass., Brady posted a cheeky jab at the Silver and Black over a play that still pains their loyal followers and Jon Gruden.

"The Tuck Rule," much like "The Immaculate Reception" is a play that will always live in Raiders lore with Brady playing the role of central villian.

Now we transition to former members of the Silver and Black who Raider Nation might not be so fond of. This list was a lot easier to make than the above one, for obvious reasons. (You probably know No.1).

5. Lane Kiffin

The dislike for Kiffin might stem from the fact that he was the only one in the building who didn't want to draft JaMarcus Russell or from the fact that he was just the wrong guy for the job.

Regardless, a 5-15 record was enough for Al Davis to send Kiffin packing and put him on Raider Nation's bad side.

4. Rolando McClain

Hatred for former players normally comes from two places: Either they underperformed given their ability or gave the impression they didn't care.

McClain was the latter. While his stats weren't awful, the Alabama product had motivation issues that stopped him from growing into the type of player a top 10 pick is expected to be. Couple that with some legal troubles and McClain is seen as one of the Raiders' worst draft busts and sent them into a linebacker hell that they are just digging themselves out of.

3. Randy Moss

One of the greatest receivers of all-time had a solid year for the Silver and Black in 2005. Then, 2006 came around and Moss completely mailed it in.

In a career filled with impressive numbers, Moss caught 42 passes for 553 yards and three touchdowns. He was traded to the New England Patriots in the offseason and promptly put up historic numbers, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns.

The Raiders acquired the legendary receiver for a first-round pick and he quit on them before turning into a touchdown machine in New England.

Like Roger Clemens getting in shape after he left the Boston Red Sox, Moss' clear disinterest in trying with the Raiders still burns those who bleed Silver and Black.

2. JaMarcus Russell

Russell might be the biggest draft bust in NFL history and even that might be forgiven if he seemed to put an ounce of effort into being a good NFL quarterback.

The Raiders drafted Russell over Calvin Johnson (ouch). Russell cared so little about becoming a good quarterback that Raiders coaches famously sent him home with blank film tapes to see if he would watch them and then would call on him the next day to see what he thought. He claimed he had watched the film. His backup Bruce Gradkowski has said he had to bribe JaMarcus Russell with 10 Wendy's cheeseburgers to get him to go to film study.

In 2009, Russell had the lowest quarterback rating, lowed completion percentage, fewest touchdowns and fewest yards of any qualified quarterback.

He went 7-18 as Raiders starter and was released after the 2009 season.

[RELATED: Five Raiders not named Carr who are vital to playoff dreams]

1. Antonio Brown

Maybe it's just because this one is fresh or maybe it's because the antics and insanity are so off the reservation it remains hard to believe.

There were the frostbitten feet. There was the helmet grievance where Brown painted his own lid to fool the training staff and got made when they took it from him. There was the second helmet grievance and the altercation with general manager Mike Mayock. Don't forget the illegal recording of Gruden that got turned into a guerilla marketing video on Instagram. Oh, and the clearly choreographed celebratory post when he finally was released.

It has to be among the most insane tenures any athlete has had for a franchise and never suited up for the club.

The venom from Raider Nation was on display during their Week 1 win over the Broncos when chants of "f--k AB" rang out across the Coliseum.

Safe to say he's not welcome in the Bay, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or anywhere Raider Nation has a strong foothold.


Raiders sign ex-practice squad tight end Paul Butler to bolster depth

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Raiders sign ex-practice squad tight end Paul Butler to bolster depth

The Raiders signed free agent tight end Paul Butler on Thursday.

Butler spent most of the previous two years on the Raiders’ practice squad, but was picked up late last season by the Detroit Lions as a reserve/future free agent. Butler (6 feet 6 inches, 250 pounds) also was promoted to the Raiders’ active roster in Week 17 of the 2018 season.

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