After watching the Raiders' minicamp, one of the big takeaways is just how good the new starting duo of David Amerson and Sean Smith look. Both were steadily making life very difficult for Derek Carr and his wide receivers.
Claiming the 6-1, 205 pound Amerson early last season and then adding the 6-3, 218 pound Smith this offseason gives the team two of the largest starting cornerback tandems in the league. That's just how Ken Norton Jr likes it, especially after his years on staff with the Seahawks Legion of Boom secondary in Seattle.
"Coach Norton definitely likes corners to be up on the line, physical, and get hands on the receivers, especially because of the pass rush that we got now," said Amerson. "With them getting to the ball, we want to make it a little bit harder for quarterbacks just to raise up and throw the ball, so they have to hold the ball longer and let those guys up front do their jobs."
Jack Del Rio is liking his big cornerback duo as well.
"They're long, they're aggressive, I think they've done a nice job developing and working and kind of sharpening their skill level," he said following Thursday's practice. "We're really pleased with those guys."
Both corners have some clout they bring to the field. For Amerson it was bouncing back after being waived by Washington to finish 2015 second in the NFL with 29 passes defended along with 4 interceptions. Though a resurgence last season over 13 starts is a great start and now he must do it again while continuing to up his game.
"I can definitely be a more physical guy at the line of scrimmage," said Amerson. "I'm pretty decent but I know I can get better. At DB it's so detailed. Just all the little things as far as his eyes and angles and understanding the formations and all kinds of things."
To do that, he has leaned on his new veteran cornerback cohort for his instruction which Smith has been more than happy to provide.
"He's one of the most athletic people I've ever met," Smith said of Amerson. "D.A. can make all the cuts, all the breaks. I'm definitely looking forward to working with him. Again, another young guy who's been in the league for a few years. Like I said, it's all mental, just trying to get guys to see the game like I see it, that way I can slow it down for them. A lot of them go out there and play instead of reacting."
The loss of Charles Woodson as well as some other veterans left the Raiders with a leadership void which Smith has done well to fill. He's an established NFL veteran of 7 seasons, having started 100 games.
As I noted last week, Smith's addition to the team should lead to Amerson seeing even more targets than he was last year; which is saying something considering Amerson had the sixth most targets (104) in the league in 2015. Amerson understands that comes with the territory and it's attention he is prepared to receive.
"It's more opportunities to make plays," said Amerson. "As a corner you can never be scared of the ball coming your way. You're out there on an island by yourself and you gotta stand up when the time comes and I know that going into my career. He's an established corner in this league and I'm still trying to establish myself so I'm prepared."
Based on what I've seen through OTA's and minicamp this offseason, Amerson should handle any extra attention well while Smith attempts to ensure his assignment is taken out of the play. After that's it's a battle for the nickel corner spot led by TJ Carrie, and DJ Hayden.
The season is still a good three months away, but there's plenty of reason to be very excited about the possibilities with the Raiders two starting cornerbacks. Complete night and day difference from the uneasy mystery this team had at the position this time last year.