Far and away the most interesting story line of the Oakland Raiders training camp has been the battle between outside linebackers Sio Moore and Miles Burris. Heading into offseason workouts, pretty much anyone who knew anything about the Raiders expected Moore to be the unquestioned starter at the weakside linebacker position.
Moore started as the strong side linebacker in his rookie year but after the Raiders drafted Khalil Mack in the first round of this year’s draft, they moved Moore to the weak side. But since Moore played there in college and had a very impressive rookie season for the Raiders, no one thought the move could mean Moore would be competing for a starting job.
Miles Burris, meanwhile, also started as a rookie though not for the entire season. He too impressed, especially considering the fact that he was drafted in the fourth round. But he also struggled at times and never looked as athletic and fluid as Moore did. But still, he looked like a very promising prospect as a rookie. Which is why everyone was disappointed when he missed his entire second year due to an injury.
But since coming back, Burris has been impressing the coaching staff with how much he has improved. One of the typical Reggie McKenzie guys, Burris is a hard working, blue collar player. That focus on details and hard work earned Burris most of the first team snaps during offseason workouts. And that is what everyone assumed it was, just a reward for Burris but not an actual sign of him potentially being a starter.
But then training camp began and sure enough, Burris was running with the starters. This time, Moore was also seeing time with the starting unit, but Burris often began practice with the starters and spent more time there than Moore has. So as the Raiders continued to plod through training camp with Burris seemingly leading the battle for starting weak side linebacker, it was a rather big shock when Moore was listed as the starting weakside backer in the first depth chart. Especially considering it came out at a time when Moore was spending his second day on the sideline with an injury.
Everyone knows that the first depth chart can often drastically change before the first game of the season, but that doesn’t mean it tells us nothing. The coaching staff clearly lists the depth chart as they do for a reason, it’s not like they just throw a bunch of names on the board, nor do they just go with what most assume will be the opening day starting lineup.
But with that being said, it’s pretty difficult to discern what the Raiders are trying to accomplish by listing Moore as the starter. If they were looking to push Moore by giving Burris first team reps, that seems to be defeated by naming Moore the starter even though he had not yet earned starter reps. Perhaps the Raiders see Moore as their starter but are giving Burris a chance to prove them wrong with the first teamers. This seems to be the only explanation that makes sense giving the series of events this offseason.
Regardless of everything else, there is one thing that Raiders fans can be sure about when it comes to the competition between Moore and Burris: it’s a very good thing. To have a presumed starter be challenged in the offseason, not because he is struggling but because another player is unexpectedly excelling, is a great sign for that position.
I still believe Moore will end up being the starter, but I think the Raiders are setting Burris up to be the super sub. Everyone knows that the Raiders want to be creative in both play calling and how they use their personnel. With a much deeper roster on defense, Jason Tarver will be able to move people around more in order to show different looks and keep offenses off balance. The fact that Burris is excelling will free up Tarver to use Moore or Mack as defensive ends on clear passing situations while not loosing much at the linebacker position.