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Raiders DC Paul Guenther’s scheme will not feature ‘pure free safety’, figures to ‘enhance’ Karl Joseph’s skillset

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Analyzing how the Raiders could deploy their safeties this season.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After Tuesday’s first OTA session, Levi Damien noted that the Raiders were moving around the trio of Reggie Nelson, Karl Joseph, and Marcus Gilchrist between free safety and strong safety. The next day Jon Gruden shed some light on that.

Gruden hopped on a conference call with season ticket holders along with General Manager Reggie McKenzie. A caller asked Gruden about playing Karl Joseph at free safety and Gruden’s response revealed defensive schematics for 2018.

“We don’t play a pure free safety,” said Gruden. “Our safeties play left and right. Bottom line is you’ll see Karl Joseph playing down near the line of scrimmage and in certain formations you’ll see him back deep in the post.”

Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther, a disciple of Mike Zimmer who currently is the head coach in Minnesota, will install a truly multiple defense that is wide open enough to mix and match defensive personnel in order to best defend different offenses each week. Guenther likes to disguise his looks and does so by constantly shifting safeties alignment and coverage responsibilities.

Take a look at these plays from 2014 when Paul Guenther took over as Defensive Coordinator in Cinncinnati.

To the right of the screen FS Reggie Nelson is lined up at the line of scrimmage. A Pro-Bowler under Guenther, Nelson gets a free run at the ball carrier because the play is called towards the TE side. Lining up “in the post” and only visible at the end of the play is SS George Iloka.

Earlier in the game, Nelson and Iloka’s had opposite responsibilities. It is was first Iloka who lined up near the line of scrimmage and is able to get in on the tackle. This style of defense is predicated on flexibility and adjusts to match the offensive alignment and situation.

Going back to Karl Joseph, Gruden says he will be in either of these positions depending on the formation of the defense. Its a strong guess that Joseph will be protected by playing away from the TE side of the formation so that his size isn’t a detriment in coverage. But Gruden goes on to praise Joseph and seems excited about his role in the defense.

Gruden says ”But he’s a guy that if he stays healthy, he has the capability to be a great football player. He’s got coverage skills, he will smash you, he’s got good instincts, he’s a good communicator, and I think Paul Guenther’s defense is really going to enhance his skills.”

In practice the first team safeties (Joseph, Nelson, Gilchrist) were switching back and forth from strong and free, the answer above from Gruden helps clear up the roles of these players.

Also worth a look is Gruden breaking down Mike Zimmer’s most recent iteration of this defense, the now infamous in football circles “Double A Mug” nickel defense. You can see Gruden’s enthusiasm about the scheme and it makes sense why he hired Zimmer’s protege, Guenther, to install a similar defense.

Here’s hoping Karl Joseph can step up to his lofty draft status and raise all kinda hell for the Raiders in 2018.