Vontaze Burfict vital in teaching teammates Raiders' defensive scheme


Vontaze Burfict vital in teaching teammates Raiders' defensive scheme

The Raiders are over the moon Vontaze Burfict is now wearing silver and black. Yes, even receiver Antonio Brown is cool with it. The veterans have squashed a once bitter rivalry, saying so repeatedly on social media since becoming teammates in March.

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther fought hard to bring his former field general to Oakland following a productive relationship in Cincinnati, and now the entire defense is benefitting from Burfict’s detailed working knowledge of this scheme.

That’s crystal clear during the offseason program, where new guy Burfict has become a welcome resource to a revamped crew trying to form one cohesive unit.

“It helps a lot having a guy that is extremely familiar with the scheme for the most part of his career,” Raiders weakside linebacker Tahir Whitehead said following Tuesday’s OTA session. “Six years he was in the system. Being in the system for that length of time, you know the nuances of the defense and all of the checks, all of the calls and just having Vontaze has definitely been a huge help.”

It certainly lessens Whitehead’s burden. He was the only veteran linebacker at last season’s end, working with young players all expected to be backups in 2019. He made on-field check and adjustments while playing virtually every defensive snap.

Burfict will play middle linebacker here and take over the pre-snap work while looking to rebound from an injury-riddled 2018 season. Burfict’s only 28 years old and believes several quality years remain ahead. He doesn’t, however, believe he has anything to show on his one-year “prove-it” deal.

“Nah, that’s putting stress on your shoulders,” Burfict said. “I’ve been playing for eight years now, just come out and do my job, execute and try to win games. That’s about it.”

Having Burfict in-house takes stress off Guenther, and allows him to open up the playbook. There’s faith that Burfict can flawlessly execute whatever is called, no matter how many reads and adjustments are required.

“It’s like having a quarterback that you’ve coached in there so you can get in and out of calls at the line of scrimmage,” Guenther said. “Last year we didn’t do that as much. We did it a few times and I just felt like it was a lot for the guys in the first year of the system to put that added weight on them. I wanted them to kind of go out and play.

"Now in year two, add in a guy like him and having another year under the system, the guys will pick it up a lot faster.”

Burfict is a particularly valuable resource in a scheme that takes some time to master. That’s why he’s so integral to this offseason program, when new players are working in at every level of this defense.

“This defense is kind of complicated, honestly,” Burfict said. “You can’t come in first year thinking you know it all because honestly it takes 11 pieces, but yeah I saw that when I was watching them last year. We have guys that have been with the defense now going into their second year, so you can tell that a lot of guys are picking it up, communicating.”

Guenther estimates that Burfict knew 80 percent of the defensive scheme walking through the door. The respected defensive coordinator made some changes and added plays this offseason focused on playing to this group’s strengths while trying to shore up issues that plagued the Raiders last season.

Burfict was comfortable with past scheme knowledge, claiming to be a Raiders defensive expert on experience with Guenther alone. He went back and watched last year’s game tape, as cringe-worthy as that might’ve been considering the Raiders had a non-existent pass rush and were dead last in points allowed.

Burfict didn’t come away thinking the defense needed an edge. It needs improved and disciplined execution within in the scheme, more than anything else to enhance playmaking ability. The Raiders believe Burfict is already helping in that endeavor during the offseason program.

[RELATED: Hurst, Key and Hall key to improving Raiders' pass rush]

“He’s definitely a tone setter,” Raiders defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “He’s someone that’s going to set the defense. He understands all of the calls within Coach Guenther’s defense, so it’s really helpful to talk with him.

"He has complete understanding, so there’s certain things that he knows that are going to occur during the course of a season, so he’s able to adjust it, adjust us, tell us we can play a backside gap on this, he’ll cover us, or whatever. He’s real easy to talk to and just a great teammate overall.”

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

2020 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. explains his two Raiders selections

In an offseason full of Tom Brady-to-Las-Vegas rumors, one thing is for certain: The Raiders must find upgrades at receiver and linebacker. 

With two first-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Raiders can do exactly that in slightly over two months. They're sure to look at the free-agent market as well, but finding instant contributors on rookie contracts is a must for a team looking to make the leap next season. 

This is especially true with the Raiders reportedly willing to offer Brady a two-year, $60 million contract.

Still, Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock can shore up their two biggest positions of need right away in the draft. That's exactly what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. did in his latest mock draft. Kiper gave the Raiders receiver Jerry Jeudy at No. 12 and linebacker Kenneth Murray at No. 19. 

The longtime draft expert explained his selections in a conference call on Wednesday. 

"I have Kenneth Murray going there at 19, linebacker from Oklahoma, and have them taking Jerry Jeudy from Alabama at 12," Kiper said. "So you get the linebacker -- whether it's Murray or Patrick Queen from LSU at 19, then you get the receiver. I think it's CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma or it's Jeudy from Alabama at No. 12." 

In an ideal world for the Raiders, Clemson's do-it-all hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons would fall right in their lap. Kiper said he simply can't see that happening without a major trade from Mayock. He has the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Simmons with the No. 9 pick. 

Myself and Josh Schrock, however, have Simmons going even higher at No. 4 to the New York Giants in our latest mock draft. We do agree with the positions Kiper has the Raiders targeting, but gave the Silver and Black his second options. 

While Kiper has Lamb going to the New York Jets at No. 11 and Jeudy to the Raiders one pick later, we sent Lamb to Las Vegas and Jeudy being taken by the Indianapolis Colts with the next pick. The two are that close and either one would instantly boost the Raiders' receiver corps. 

[RELATED: How Raiders' 2019 rookies are laying bedrock for success]

Murray originally wound up as a Raider in our first two editions of our mock draft, but Queen seems like he has more upside and is a better fit for the modern NFL. Murray is a fine athlete in his own regard, but Queen is much more explosive and better in coverage.

Queen's side-to-side range is what truly sets him apart. 

Either way, the consensus is out that the Raiders likely will target receivers and linebackers in this year's draft. Any combination of Jeudy, Lamb, Murray or Queen will be huge for the Raiders' rise after a seven-win season. 

Why one NFL exec sees Tom Brady-to-Raiders as QB’s 'fallback position'

Why one NFL exec sees Tom Brady-to-Raiders as QB’s 'fallback position'

When there's smoke, there's fire. And until Tom Brady re-signs with the New England Patriots, rumors will keep swirling regarding him joining the Raiders in Las Vegas. 

Brady has spent his entire 20-year NFL career with the Patriots, but if he does move on, the Raiders could make sense. The Raiders' stellar rookie class from last season should take another step forward in 2020 and between coach Jon Gruden, general manager Mike Mayock and owner Mark Davis, the Silver and Black want to start their Las Vegas tenure with a bang.

This team still might be going through a bit of a rebuild, but there the above trio won't wait forever. They want wins. And nobody is better at that then Brady. 

But one NFL executive believes the Raiders aren't quite yet Brady's first option. 

“The Raiders become a fallback position for Brady in my view," the anonymous exec said to The Athletic's Mike Sando. "If it turns out Brady really wants to get away from Bill Belichick and he is out of there no matter what, then I think the Raiders become the next best possibility.”

The Patriots reportedly are willing to offer Brady upward of $30 million a year, but NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported earlier this month that Patriots owner Robert Kraft is willing to let the six-time Super Bowl champion see what's out on the market before coming back to the Patriots with his demands. If that's the case, it sounds like the Raiders are ready to open their wallets for the future Hall of Famer. 

longtime sportswriter Larry Fitzgerald Sr., -- who also is the father of Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. -- dropped an eye-opener on Valentine's Day. 

Would the Raiders really be willing to give $60 million to a QB who will be 43 years old next season? The Raiders are slated to have around $55 million in salary cap room entering the offseason. Though they'd prefer to get Brady on a cheaper deal, the Raiders, in theory, can afford to give him a hefty sum. 

[RELATED: Why Raiders signing Brady could make sense for both sides]

This of course all depends on if Gruden and Co. are ready to move on from a much-younger quarterback Derek Carr. When you have a chance to add Tom Brady, though, you at least take a long look at the possibility. 

The Raiders certainly seem to have their eyes on Brady. But it could take a lot to break up a long marriage between a legendary QB and legendary coach in Brady and Bill Belichick.