Although listed as the starting strongside linebacker like predecessor Kamerion Wimbley, Philip Wheeler will have a much different role with the Raiders in 2012.
Wimbley could be found at strongside linebacker in the base defense, where he had little success in pass coverage and was marginal against the run. In the nickel defense, Wimbley moved to right end and became the club's most consistent pass rusher.
Wheeler, a more compact player at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, will have myriad roles in a multiple system.
"They ask me to do a lot of things, cover the tight end sometimes, blitz sometimes, drop back in coverage," Wheeler said Wednesday after the Raiders' organized team activity. "It's fun because the offense is never going to know what we're doing."
Returning players are thrilled with a system installed by coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver that deviates from the standard 4-3 defense with minimal blitzing and backed by a man-to-man defense favored by late owner Al Davis.
Likewise, Wheeler is excited to play in something other than the strict Cover 2 employed by Indianapolis. He understand why the Colts played that way -- the Cover 2 perfectly complemented Peyton Manning as a play-with-the-lead offense on a team that could score.
But it did little for expanding Wheeler's game as a player. Blitzing was a rumor, as Wheeler had two sacks in 61 games over four seasons with the Colts.
He watched with admiration linebacker-friendly schemes that helped make Von Miller a rookie star in Denver, as well as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco -- schemes that involved Allen with the Broncos and Tarver with the 49ers.
"We're doing a lot of the same things, and I feel I can do some of those things those guys are doing," Wheeler said.
Said Allen: "The thing about him is that he's a really good athlete. He's explosive, he's got speed, he's got some rushability. When we play some of our zone coverages, that stuff he did at Indianapolis. He excels at that. Being able to have guys like that where we can move them around and do different stuff is going to help us."
"It's getting a little boring just standing around and watching," he said. "I'm getting a lot of mental reps, but I've got to get healthy first. It looks like I'll be more than good to go by camp."
Alex Parsons, a practice squad player a year ago, has been working as the first-team center.
It's a bargain for the Raiders in that Reece, with 54 catches for 654 yards during his NFL career, is one of the more unique talents in the league given he has the skills of a wide receiver in a 6-2, 250-pound body.
Reece has no leverage to get a better contract, and next year will be a restricted free agent, again tying him to the team.
"What's important is now I'm here," he said. "Everyone that was involved in that situation, we're all men of integrity, we all know what the deal was, what was going on and everything has been positive between myself, Dennis Allen, (general manager) Reggie McKenzie and my agent Joel Segal."
Under terms of the trade, Cincinnati was to be awarded another first-round pick if the Raiders made it to the AFC title game. But that condition was only for the 2011 season, not 2012 as well.
The Bengals also got the Raiders' first-round pick in 2011.