ALAMEDA -- The Raiders hoped and prayed that NFL appeals officer Derrick Brooks would be lenient when it came to Vontaze Burfict's Week 4 hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle.
The helmet-to-helmet hit got the Raiders middle linebacker ejected from the game, and caused the NFL to suspend Burfict for the remainder of the season. Burfict appealed the ruling and head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr spoke on his behalf, trying to make Brooks see Burfict had been a model player since arriving in Oakland, and one that has tried to change his game to adjust to the focus on player safety.
That fell on deaf ears as Brooks elected to uphold the suspension, banning Burfict for 12 games.
It was a suspension that is unprecedented for on-field action, and one that still has Gruden steaming.
"You got to have linebackers, you know," Gruden told reporters Wednesday. "If someone comes out and wants to play old-fashioned, big-boy football, you got to have linebackers. Losing Burfcit's big. I'm still not happy about it. I'm just not happy about it. We believe in player safety. We coach it, we believe in it, we really stress it. But 12 games, I'm not happy about that. I'm not happy about it. But it is what it is and we'll get (Justin Phillips) and Dakota Allen and whoever the next man up is and get them ready to go."
With Burfict gone, the Raiders have only five linebackers on the active roster and have mostly played in their nickel defense since the ejection, relying on Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow to man the linebacker positions.
Whitehead has been tasked with taking over the communication responsibilities on the defense with Burfict gone, and playing a majority of snaps in their base defense worked well in a Week 5 win over the Bears in London.
Whether or not that strategy continues to work, though, remains to be seen.