How Kaluka Maiava Will Fill Philip Wheeler’s Void

The Oakland Raiders are trying to completely rebuild a defense that was ranked 28th in points allowed in 2012 and lost two starters to free agency. General manager Reggie McKenzie has signed a trio of linebackers to try to strengthen one of the team’s biggest weaknesses.

The biggest loss this offseason was free-agent linebacker Philip Wheeler, who came to Oakland on a one-year deal last season and became one of the team’s best defenders. Wheeler replaced pass-rushing linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and became a versatile linebacker capable of stopping the run, dropping into coverage, blitzing and calling the defensive plays.

Kaluka Maiava is one of the options McKenzie brought in to replace Wheeler, but he was only a part-time linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 2012. Maiava was rarely asked to drop into pass coverage, which means he’ll have to prove himself in that area to stay on the field in nickel situations.

The good news is that Maiava received a favorable grade by ProFootballFocus in 2012 (subscription required), largely due to two good games in pass coverage. McKenzie may have signed Maiava based on a limited sample size over the past two years in pass coverage, but the sample is generally pretty good.

Primarily Maiava covered backs and tight ends running flat patterns. Like many linebackers, Maiava wasn’t asked to turn his hips and run down a seam or cover a tight end man-to-man. Wheeler was a little more versatile because he could drop into deeper zones and was actually capable of covering some tight ends man-to-man.

On one play in Week 1, Maiava got his hands on the tight end just as he made his break. The little shove may have disrupted the pattern just enough to pull the tight end off his mark. The pass would end up being behind the tight end, which was either a poor throw or a product of Maiava’s contact.

Maiava did allow the tight end to get some separat...

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