Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has been able to build units from the ground up. He's put the team's key players in place. But the 2016 Draft class will undoubtedly challenge the status quo and perhaps some conventional wisdom. One of the more interesting scenarios will revolve around No. 14 overall selection Karl "The Hitman" Joseph and how his skills best serve the team.
Until drafting the ferocious safety, the Silver and Black secondary was pretty much set -- Reggie Nelson and Nate Allen would man the safety positions and David Amerson and Sean Smith would start at corner. Overall it looked like a quality starting unit comprised entirely of mercenaries. The only question that needed answering was....who will play nickel back?
Passing on DJ Hayden's fifth-year option meant the coaching staff would not invest time developing him. Neiko Thorpe has shown some wonderful athleticism but has been less consistent than TJ Carrie. So, Carrie then?
The coaching staff may have Carrie penciled in to man the nickel post. While Carrie showed better consistency last season than Hayden or Thorpe, he was a third-down conversion just waiting to happen. During the 2015 campaign, opposing quarterbacks feasted on him in key situations after the arrival of Amerson.
The case has been made that Carrie's struggles last season were due to his being asked to play safety. Two things tend to dispel that idea. First, in man coverage he gave up some key completions that kept opponents drives alive. You either cover a guy or you don't. Two, with him on the roster, the team added three safeties and two corners with the intention of starting all of them ahead of Carrie. So, that coach's pencil may have an eraser at the other end.
Due to Allen's injury, he played only three games last season. However, he's a veteran player the team brought in to start. Obviously, the organization had confidence in him over other players already on the roster before he went down.
And although Joseph earns a great deal of hype for his bone crushing hits, keep in mind he has excellent man-to-man coverage skills. As former N.Y. Giants safety and sports analyst Mike Mayock put it, he has the, ". . . range, toughness and ability to drop down in the slot and cover man . . ."
Given the players Norton has to work with, would he rather have Joseph man-up in the slot or Carrie? If Joseph, then Allen at safety or Carrie?
It may behoove defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to have his most talented five on the field in nickel situations — Smith, Amerson, Nelson, Allen and Joseph.
Putting three safeties on the field doesn't shake the pillars of pro football, but it may be mildly unconventional. The question for Norton is . . . do you put your best five on the field or four out of five?