Saturday’s game in Los Angeles against the Rams saw nearly every one of the team’s starters in shorts, watching. Only one position group appeared to have fielded their first team units — the secondary.
The starters for the season opener were CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Daryl Worley, S Reggie Nelson, and S Karl Joseph. Worley was replaced against the Rams by expected starter, Gareon Conley, who missed the first preseason game recovering from a hip injury. But with him back, he got the start and all the other three remained the same.
It was interesting to note this. Jon Gruden gave his explanation for it Monday.
“We wanted to see a little bit of Conley, obviously. He hasn’t had the pads on very much in the last year, so we got him 8 or 9 snaps. He’ll get a little bit more this week,” said Gruden. “Just wanted to take a look at Melvin. He did some good things against the Lions, again just for a couple series, 8 to 10 snaps. I wanted to see a little bit more of Reggie Nelson. Needed his leadership back there. Gilchrist was still out. We had a lot of young guys playing, so we wanted to have Reggie back there calling the shots. We held Leon Hall [out] obviously, because we wanted to see some other guys play the nickel position.”
My primary feeling with regard to this decision was the concern about the secondary and the uncertainty at the safety position specifically. And with the rumors the Raiders could show interest in recently released Bengals safety George Iloka, that feeling of uncertainty at the position is magnified.
“It’s very competitive,” Gruden said of the safety spot. “I think Erik Harris has had a good camp. I think Marcus Gilchrist has been a good player. We haven’t seen him, hopefully we get him back out here today. Reggie Nelson certainly, and Karl Joseph give us four guys that have been working in the rotation, but we haven’t settled on anything yet.”
All of these players come with question marks. Harris is coming out of nowhere as a former special teams player. Gilchrist is a journeyman who is a jack of all trades, master of none. Nelson will turn 35 next month. And Karl Joseph has not stepped up as hoped for the former top pick.
It’s clear those four safeties are leading the way, but Gruden doesn’t sound all that confident in that.