ALAMEDA, Calif. — Raiders defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks has been on the bubble before. And as one of the players who may be cut before the 1 p.m. Saturday deadline for NFL teams to establish a 53-man roster, he is holding his breath once again.
Westbrooks played for the Rams the last five seasons — first in St. Louis, then in Los Angeles. He earned a spot on their roster as an undrafted rookie free agent out of West Texas A&M in 2014 — beating out seventh-round pick and 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam for a roster spot.
But after the Rams declined to re-sign Westbrooks in the 2019 offseason, he remained on the free agent market until the Raiders signed him on July 30. As seen on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” Westbrooks replaced Ronald Ollie — of “Last Chance U” fame — on the Raiders’ 90-man roster.
Westbrooks arrived with a solid resume as a rotational defensive lineman, racking up 9.0 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 67 games. He has the flexibility to play inside at defensive tackle or outside at defensive end in the Raiders’ scheme — and he did so throughout the preseason.
In so doing, Westbrooks made a solid case for himself to earn a spot on the Raiders’ final roster, recording 2.0 sacks, four quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the four preseason games.
But after Thursday’s exhibition finale, Westbrooks said that as a competitor he thinks he could have done more.
“Probably a few more sacks would’ve made that look a lot better,” Westbrooks said. “But other than that, playing inside and outside, I feel like I showed my versatility.”
Westbrooks admitted he wishes he had been with a team earlier, because then he likely would’ve entered camp in shape instead of having to play his way there.
“Between that and the playbook was my biggest challenge, I think,” Westbrooks said.
It became an issue in the second half of the third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, when Westbrooks said he was actually throwing up from exertion. Westbrooks was in for 61 defensive plays — only cornerback Kiesean Nixon played more with 66 — and said his attitude in playing that much goes back to what his first defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, taught him as a rookie.
“You’ve always got to be accountable and available,” Westbrooks said.
Still, Westbrooks’ performance has likely given the Raiders’ brass something to think about. Coach Jon Gruden said on Thursday the Raiders’ defensive line group is competitive, and it’s a position the club will have to carefully review.
“We’re not just evaluating our players, either — we’re evaluating players around the league,” Gruden said. “Corey Liuget is here, working. We’re trying to get him ready to play. Lots of tough calls, no doubt.”
Westbrooks did survive the first round of cuts on Friday, with the Raiders dismissing two players at his position: journeyman Gabe Wright and 2017 third-round pick Eddie Vanderdoes. That leaves seven playersr on the roster for a group that will likely be four or five at most.
But on a team that recorded just 13 sacks last year, Westbrooks is a proven pass-rushing commodity. That could be one reason the Raiders turn to him to fill a spot on the final roster.
“Overall, I think my resume speaks volumes, to the point where I deserve a job somewhere — if not here with the Raiders,” Westbrooks said. “I’m proud of my work that I put on tape.”