Staff writer and columnist Angria Trask believes the Las Vegas Raiders linebacker corps will set the tone for a remade and rebuilt defense that just might be ready to start pulling its weight in 2020.
With a new stadium for the Raiders comes a new set of faces for the team – especially on defene. Along with a heavy draft haul, the team signed promising new free agents to fill a crucial position on their defense, one that has been ignored for far too long.
The new linebacker corps will offer options that the Raiders haven’t seen in a few years, namely a “Mike” linebacker.
Commonly known as the quarterback of the defense, the position has remained unfilled for the last three years since Jon Gruden took over the team. The last man to wear the green dot was NaVorro Bowman, who played one year with the team in 2017 but was not picked up when the new Gruden regime was installed. The days of signing retreads and players who had past their prime are gone. Instead, a youth movement and key free-agent acquisitions mean the position is finally getting the attention it deserves.
The Raiders remained consistent in free agency, signing the most promising players early and biding their time to see how the scheme would work.
Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton were signed back to back as soon as the free-agent period was open for business. It didn’t take long for Gruden to give high praise to Kwiatkoski, alluding to him being a great fit for the Mic position. Gruden said Kwiatkoski would be the “straw that stirs the drink” on the defensive side of the ball.
In his four seasons, Kwiatkoski has been all over the field. He has racked up stats in almost every defensive category. But 2019 was by far his best year. Kwiatkoski had four passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble, and 76 tackles in addition to his 3 sacks. It’s important to note that he was fighting for time with the likes of Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, and of course Khalil Mack. After being part of a stacked linebacker group, Kwiatkoski is ready to take the lead and by all accounts, he’s got every tool in the box.
“Yeah, it is the first time I’ve done that (been the “guy” from the get-go),” Kwiatkoski said Monday. “The process for me doesn’t change. I kind of had that mindset even in Chicago when there was a lot of unknown. Preparing like I’m a starter, preparing like I was going to get reps is something I’ve prided myself on over the last couple of years. That’s something the others around me prided themselves on, so it’s something they taught me.”
Cory Littleton spent his four years in the league with the LA Rams. He’s also an all-over-the-field player, racking up two interceptions, nine passes defended, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 135 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2019. He’s great in coverage and has been consistently improved year over year and since he became a full-time starter in 2018, has shown flashes of being a great player, even in a sea of talent. He’s ready to take a step forward and pairing with Kwiatkoski promises to be a huge upgrade to the Raiders linebacker corps.
In addition to the newest recruits, the Raiders see the return of Nicholas Morrow and Kyle Wilber, Followed by a few other newbies to the team, Justin Phillips, Nick Usher, and Bryce Hager, the group is rounded off by the promising rookie, Tanner Muse.
Drafted in the third round, Muse is a tall, lean body, who can slide from linebacker to safety with ease. He will be a good option for money-back plays and some time on special teams should give him a well-rounded start
The Raiders have long suffered from a lack of explosion in the front seven. With new free agents and promising rookie talent, the future looks brighter than it has for several seasons. A perfect way to introduce the Silver and Black to their new home at Allegiant Stadium.