Through free agency and the draft, the Raiders reloaded every position group on offense, and expect much different results in 2015 from years past.
On the defensive side of the ball, Oakland is counting on the growth of recent draft picks and a new defensive-minded staff.
One rising player, linebacker Sio Moore, believes he can be a signficant part of the jump the Raiders hope to make on defense.
“I’ve always felt like the linebackers should be the heart of a team and a heart of a defense,” Moore told the team's official website. “If you look at a marching band or you look at anything that has to do with a group of people like that, I look at it like the linebackers are like the heartbeat; they’re like the snare drum. It doesn’t live without it.”
Moore, a third-year linebacker out of Connecticut, will have an opportunity to learn from new head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., who combine for 22 years of experience playing linebacker in the NFL.
“I’ve had a couple conversations with Coach [Del Rio] and it’s easier to talk to him because one, he wore double nickels [No. 55], and two, he played the position,” said the 6-foot-1, 245-pound hitter. “Playing linebacker, your head and how you look at things is a little bit different. When you can talk to a guy who understands exactly where you are, exactly what you’re trying to do, it helps. When you’re talking to another linebacker, it’s almost like its own fraternity. Guys understand a lot because we have a lot of the same rigors day in and day out.”
Moore will be working even closer with Norton Jr., who won three Super Bowls as a player with two different teams (Cowboys and 49ers), and one as a coach (Seahawks).
“Coach Norton is a guy that’s really committed to everything he stands for. He’s creating an environment for everyone that’s in it to stand for that same purpose,” Moore said, detailing the coach's style. “The thing about the purpose that’s unique, I think, is it’s not just his own purpose; he allows the players to create the purpose, so it’s not driven from him, it’s driven by us.”
In college and in the pros, Del Rio and Norton have coached linebackers such as Mike Peterson, Daryl Smith, Kirk Morrison, Joe Mays, Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, DeMarcus Ware, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Bruce Irvin, Lofa Tatupu, Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Kaluka Maiava and Clay Matthews.
“That’s why all of our coaches are so passionate because when you play the linebacker position, you’ve got to have fire,” Moore said.
“You’ve got to be passionate. You have to have a chip on your shoulder. You’ve got to be a bada--. You have to be somebody’s pain in the a--. You can tell just by how all of them carry themselves that at some point in their lives or careers, they were a pain in the a-- to somebody on the other side of the ball. You can appreciate that because that’s what you’re trying to create now and that’s the type of legacy you want to leave when you get out of ball and that carries on to whatever else you do in your life. For them being coaches, you can tell how they coach, that’s how they played.”
Moore was drafted in the third round with the 66th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
He racked up 49 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble as a rookie.
In his follow-up campaign in 2014, which saw him miss five starts due to injury, Moore still posted 99 tackles, 3.0 sacks, a pass deflection and a forced fumble.
Along with Moore, the retooled Raiders linebacking corps expects to feature Khalil Mack, and newcomers Curtis Lofton, Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney.
Returning from a season cut short, Moore is preparing for a big year: “I’m making sure that my body and my mind is mentally ready to play until February.”