Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp, which opens on July 31.
Who they have: Ray-Ray Armstrong, Neiron Ball, Spencer Hadley, Ben Heeney, Curtis Lofton, Khalil Mack, Horace Miller, Sio Moore, Josh Shirley, Malcolm Smith, Chase Williams
Who they lost: Nick Roach, Miles Burris, Bojay Filimoeatu, Kaluka Maiava
Looking back: The Raiders’ lack of linebacker depth was exposed early and often last season. The biggest loss was middle linebacker Nick Roach, who dealt with concussion-like symptoms after suffering severe head trauma in a preseason game at Green Bay. He missed the entire season – he remains out of football – and forced Miles Burris to play out of position all year in his stead. Weakside linebacker Sio Moore was injured twice last year, forcing inexperienced practice-squad player Bojay Filimoeatu and converted safety Ray-Ray Armstrong into action.
Khalil Mack stayed healthy during his rookie year and flashed the potential to be a superstar. He was an animal against the run and strong pressuring the quarterback, though he often fell a half-step short of making game-altering plays.
Overall outlook: General manager Reggie McKenzie addressed linebacker depth in a big way, and turned weakness into strength. He waved goodbye to Burris and Filimoeatu, signed veterans Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith and drafted Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball. Moore returns healthy after offseason hip surgery, and should end up in the starting lineup. Armstrong impressed the new coaching staff this offseason with an ability to attack and cover.
Lofton is an ironman and a sure tackler in the middle. Smith is a reliable linebacker at both outside positions. So is Moore, who has NFL starting experience on the weak and strong sides.
Let’s not forget about Mack. He’s the team’s best player, and is poised to have a huge year.
The Raiders have options and depth at linebacker for the first time in a while, which should help on defense and special teams coverage.
Camp competition: It will be interesting to see how snaps are dispersed on the outside. The Raiders have options on the weak side, with Moore, Smith and Armstrong fighting for playing time. Coaches lavished praise on Armstrong this offseason, which could be real or a motivational tool for Moore. Smith is a good fit in this defense as well and deserves a prominent role.
Mack’s placement could also have an impact here. While he played strongside linebacker last season and in the base defense this offseason, he could see significant time at defensive end outside sub packages.
These players, especially Moore, could function well should Mack have his hand in the dirt.
The Raiders started last season with six linebackers and it seems like five players are locks outside two draft picks. Trying to crack that group may be tough for others on the bubble.
Bottom line: We know Lofton will start in the middle and play as long as he’s healthy. Mack will be heavily involved as a roving pass rusher and run stopper in the linebacker corps. Moore should have the inside track on the weakside linebacker spot, though it’s tough to count Smith or Armstrong out of a rotation. Their presence also provides flexibility to move Mack up front as needed. Heeney could be Lofton’s primary backup, though he and Ball should help on special teams right away.