The Oakland Raiders will enter the 2013 season with a completely re-tooled defense. Of the 11 starters on defense last season, only three are still with the team: Tyvon Branch, Lamarr Houston and Miles Burris. Two of those guys are guaranteed to be starters again in 2013, but for Burris, the future is not so clear.
The Raiders purged themselves on linebackers this off season, adding four new names to the roster. First, they added Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava in free agency. Then, general manager Reggie McKenzie drafted Sio Moore in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
With those moves, the Raiders turned one of their biggest weaknesses on defense into their most stacked unit. But with the addition of solid players, Burris may find himself the odd man out in 2013 despite being a starter as a rookie just last season.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen has already said that the defense will operate out of a 4-3 base which means that while the team will occasionally make use of four linebackers, there are only three starting spots. Two of those spots will likely be taken by Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett.
That leaves Kaluka Maiava, Sio Moore and former starter Miles Burris to compete for the final starting spot. The Raiders do have other backers on the roster, such as Burnett’s younger brother Kaelin, but they will not compete for the third starting spot.
Maiava was a starter for the Cleveland Browns last season and was the first linebacker brought in during the off season. He is generally seen as a special teams stud — not one to excel as a starter. But that being said, Philip Wheeler was supposed to be an average to below average starter before he came to Oakland where he flourished under HC Dennis Allen and DC Jason Tarver. McKenzie is a known as an excellent talent evaluator, and he likely brought Maiava in at least to push for a starting spot.
Sio Moore is a guy that the Raiders like as a potential starter as well. After taking him in the third round, many experts expressed that the Raiders had gotten one of the bigger steals of the 2013 Draft. It is highly likely that Moore will find his way onto the field as a rookie, but the lack of experience when compared to Burris and Maiava make him a long shot to win the starting role.
As a rookie, Burris showed that he had versatility and could be effective in both the run and pass game. He was one of those players who was always found within a yard or two of the ball carrier at the end of a play. But he began to fade late in the season and still has a lot of room to improve.
Burris is probably the favorite to win the third starting spot, but this is yet another of many wide open battles that Raiders fans should pay close attention to when training camp starts at the end of the month.