Suffice it to say, but the Oakland Raiders depleted linebacking corps needs an overhaul. And that begins in earnest at the tail end of this week with the NFL draft. General Manager Reggie McKenzie sang the right tune last Friday during the team’s pre-draft press conference.
“We want good linebacker play. And Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like,” McKenzie said. “We’re going to get us a couple I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether it’s in the draft, or post-draft, or trade, or somebody gets released.”
Let’s hope that wasn’t empty rhetoric. Talent infusion at linebacker is imperative. Quality depth would greatly affect the career path of a 2016 draft pick: Shilique Calhoun.
A combination of ineffectiveness and injuries hurt the Raiders’ linebacker unit, forcing Calhoun into a role that doesn’t fit the skills of the former Michigan State Spartan. He operates as a pass rusher by trade, not a cover linebacker. Terrorizing the quarterback remains Calhoun’s calling card and the perceived reason the Raiders drafted him in the third round (75th overall) of last year’s draft.
Yes, yes, the Raiders quickly announced he was going to play outside linebacker after playing with his hand in the dirt as a Spartan for the majority of his collegiate career. But that’s where the Raiders need to go with Calhoun. They must return to the roots that made the 6-foot-4, 251-pound Calhoun a decorated collegiate lineman. He needs hands in the dirt, rushing the QB or standing up and lined up outside blitzing.
A return to the edge would allow Oakland to capitalize on the immense potential Calhoun displayed in college. He talled 27 sacks, 44 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles at MSU.
Yet, if McKenzie doesn’t reinforce the linebackers as a whole, all this is moot. Calhoun would be once again forced to play a cover and hit style reserved for smaller and faster players. And that’s something the Raiders cannot afford to do. Instead of putting a round peg into a square hole, let Calhoun do what he does best: Get after the QB.