Sio Moore can get after the quarterback. The UConn alum ranked fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers with 4.5 sacks as a Raiders rookie, with potential for more efficient quarterback disruption.
Last season’s third-round pick matured as a linebacker in a season worthy of all-rookie team honors, and entered his first NFL offseason with a firm grasp on the work ethic necessary to excel.
Such growth typically doesn’t precede a position switch. Then again, a team typically doesn’t have a chance to draft a linebacker with Khalil Mack’s pass-rushing potential. They couldn't pass Mack up at No. 5 overall, and now have two dynamic linebackers best fit for the strong side.
The Raiders hope to avoid a logjam by moving Moore to the weak side, an offseason experiment the team hopes will create a versatile, unpredictable pass rush and keep two potential franchise cornerstones on the field at the same time.
“We believe in versatility,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “When you get into games, the more things guys can do, the better you are going to be able to adjust, change the game plan and make the defense work based on what the offense is doing to you.”
With Mack, Moore and middle linebacker Nick Roach -- who had 5.5 sacks of his own – the Raiders have options blitzing the passer.
“The thing about it is, you don’t know literally where (pressure) could come from at this point,” Moore said. “We have guys that are capable of making a play whether it be blitzing, whether it be in coverage, whether it be in anything. That’s a good part about it. We have guys that are successful at doing that. It’s just a work in progress to continue to make sure we’re doing that and have that ready by Week 1.”
That will work if Moore proves he can make the switch. He did so in college, moving from the weak side to the strong side. Moore said going back is nothing unusual.
“The good thing I have on my side now is knowing that I was able to play strongside linebacker last year and if I learn how to play weakside linebacker this year, I can play any of them,” Moore said. “Right now, my goal is not to be just a linebacker, it’s to be the best linebacker there is. The more that I can do, the more that I can learn and the faster that I can learn it and the faster that I can produce and be a part of something, then we have a situation.”
With so many other quality pieces in place, Moore could make this defense even more dynamic. If, of course, he can make the switch.
Allen believes Moore has the talent to man a position that typically requires, though not exclusively, greater efforts in pass coverage.
“Sio has the skillset that position and we’ll continue to work with him throughout the rest of these OTAs and training camp,” Allen said. “Again, we’re going to put the best three guys on the field. Whoever those best three guys are, we’re going to put them on the field and we’re going to go play.”
Though he’s been absent or hurt early in this OTA phase, Kevin Burnett fits into this equation as well. The 31-year old veteran is a strong tackler and a solid cover man, who started on the weakside last season.
The Raiders will try to find the best players for each situation and personnel package. Grouping will iron itself out through competition throughout the preseason. Versatility, Allen said will keep players on the field.
“All of our linebackers are going to have to be able play the run,” Allen said. “All of our linebackers are going to have to be able to play the pass. All of our linebackers are going to have to rush the passer. We’ll find ways to get guys that can do those things. We’ll find ways to get them on the field.”