Raiders hope Roach is the man in the middle
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP)
Nick Roach lined up at middle linebacker, barked out a coverage adjustment, then quickly shifted behind the left side of the defensive line before bursting through to pressure Oakland rookie quarterback Tyler Wilson.
After three years of getting little production out of the position, the Raiders think they've found a remedy in the 27-year-old veteran defender.
Coach Dennis Allen has been gushing about Roach ever since the team signed him as a free agent in March as part of a defensive overhaul which included dumping former first-round draft pick Rolando McClain.
''Nick's highly intelligent and he's athletic,'' Allen said Monday. ''He's done a nice job of kind of being the quarterback of our defense. He really has a passion about leading that team ... and he's got some things that he can do from a coverage standpoint that lends some flexibility to us.''
Roach spent the past six seasons mostly playing on the strong side of Chicago's defense while pulling spot duty as a backup to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. When Urlacher missed the final four games of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury, Roach took over and played well.
The Bears had hoped to re-sign Roach in the offseason but the two sides failed to reach an accord. When he became a free agent, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie was among the first to call.
The Raiders have no intentions of moving him around, either. After releasing the troubled and unproductive McClain in the offseason, the plan is to put Roach in the middle and leave him there.
Roach averaged 46 tackles over six years in Chicago while splitting time on special teams. He'll do the same in Oakland but expects his production to increase now that he's settled in inside.
''The biggest difference is we're a lot more multiple,'' Roach said. ''Chicago is about as basic as it gets. We played pretty simple. Everybody knew what we were going to do, and we knew they knew.
''I didn't really know much about what had been going on (in Oakland) but I did know the staff was coming in trying to get things right, whatever that meant. They felt, and I felt, we could be a part of that together.''
Almost as impressive as his offseason workouts has been the rapid pace at which Roach established himself as a presence in an Oakland locker room that has been devoid of leadership for some time now.
It hasn't been easy.
Roach acknowledged few of his new teammates had even heard of him before he signed with the Raiders in March.
Veteran defensive end Andre Carter, who was re-signed by Oakland in the offseason primarily to help with the leadership void, knew of Roach and wasn't surprised to see the 6-foot-1, 235-pounder take control as quickly as he did.
''It goes to show how he wants to be known as,'' Carter said. ''The Mike linebacker is the engine of the defense, so for him to be vocal is very vital because we need that on the field as well as off the field. He gets the communication to everyone, the defensive line, the cornerbacks, safeties. If you don't have that, you're not going to be successful.''
Notes: The Raiders confirmed they won't get first-round pick D.J. Hayden back on the field until training camp. Hayden attended practice but remains sidelined after undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue from his abdominal region. ''It's a little bit of uncharted waters but we still feel comfortable that he'll be back and ready to go in camp,'' Allen said.