Sorry, Raider Nation. I know a lot of you were hoping the Raiders were going to move on from Reggie Nelson at safety. Near the end of last season, it looked like that that is just what would happen. His contract was up at the age of 34, he had just one interception last season, and the team had drafted safeties in the top two rounds to be the long term answer.
All that made letting Nelson’s time in Oakland end seem like a foregone conclusion. Then Jon Gruden came onboard, bringing former Paul Guenther in as his defensive coordinator and all that changed.
The former Bengals DC wanted some familiar faces with him on his new venture. Guys who he knew and who know his scheme. Nelson — who spent six seasons in Cincinnati (2010-15) — was the perfect candidate.
“Reggie knows our system inside and out,” Guenther told The Athletic. “Reggie is the kind of guy if you tell him what to do and how to do it, he is going to do it exactly how you want him to do it. If there is any gray area in there, then maybe he is not going to be as effective.”
Initially it seemed like Nelson could just be that veteran mentor to help get the training wheels off the younger guys like Karl Joseph and Obi Melifonwu but not be a starter or perhaps not make the team. Guenther says that’s not the case. That they expect a lot from the veteran safety.
“We got Reggie in Cincinnati out of Jacksonville,” Guenther continued. “He was a first-round pick and we traded a seventh-rounder for him. We went into his body, pulled the wires out and re-wired him and he played at a high level for us. So, I am expecting nothing different here.”
Guenther’s opinion of Nelson has nothing to do with last season. And outside of his age (he’ll be 35 at the beginning of next season) basing your opinion of Nelson on that one seasons may not be a great idea either.
“Reggie played 99 percent of the snaps last year,” Guenther said. “We’re not going to have guys playing 99 percent of the snaps. ‘Your goal is to play in this package or that package.’”
In OTA’s, Nelson has seen the field a lot. Though there was more of a rotation at safety than we saw last year. Primarily that rotation was between he and Karl Joseph and Marcus Gilchrist with the first team.
Gruden was asked about that, and he said plainly that the Raiders won’t be deploying a “pure free safety”. We broke down what Guenther plans to do with the safeties here.
There’s no question Nelson had his issues last season. The entire defense did, evidenced in part by their NFL record streak of 10 games to start the season without an interception. Prior to last season, Nelson had gone to two Pro Bowls.
The first of those Pro Bowls was in Cincinnati under Guenther in which Nelson led the NFL with 8 interceptions. He followed that up by leading the Raiders with 5 interceptions. Though even then, Nelson showed some instances in which he was well out of position and gave up big pass plays.
Nelson returned to the Raiders on a one-year deal. He is with the coach who was able to get the most out of him as a player, putting up 12 interceptions and 26 passes defended over their two seasons with Guenther as his defensive coordinator.
Sure, Nelson is no Charles Woodson who was still better than most of the NFL at the age of 39. But Nelson is at his best with Guenther. Even at age 35. Or at least that’s what the Raiders look to be banking on.