At the 56th pick in the draft, the Raiders took Obi Melifonwu out of UConn. Immediately, he looked like a perfect fit to eventually play the strong safety spot that Kam Chancellor did in Seattle.
Chancellor is a former linebacker who switched to safety and became a Pro Bowler and a key part of the secondary dubbed the Legion of Boom.
Melifonwu playing that role specifically may have to wait until after this season when Reggie Nelson’s career in Oakland figures to end. For now, the Raiders would like to get Melifonwu on the field however they can and the answer is to utilize him as a hybrid safety/linebacker in much the same way the Arizona Cardinals do.
On report day Friday, Melifonwu was asked about playing this role, and he didn’t answer in the hypothetical.
“I’m excited about it,” Melifonwu said. “It’s something that’s new to me, but with the coaching staff and stuff, it’s something that can be learned.
It won’t be a seamless transition for the 6-4, 224-pounder. He admitted there were some areas he will need to learn and improve to get up to speed.
“Run fits, run/pass conflict,” Melifonwu said of the areas of emphasis, “especially in the NFL, you have teams with play action pass and do things like that, so that’s gonna have to be learned.”
In the offseason, the Raiders added former Chargers Defensive Coordinator John Pagano in the role of Assistant Head Coach — Defense. His focus will be on communication between the secondary and the linebacking corps, making him the key to getting Melifonwu to thrive in his new role.