Ahead of the Raiders first preseason game this week, the team put out their first unofficial depth chart of 2018 and only 11 of 22 positions are returning starters from 2017. Many newcomers figure to serve in starting roles, especially on defense where Gruden has completely overhauled the secondary.
Listed as the starter at safety alongside Karl Joseph is 6-year veteran Marcus Gilchrist who most recently played the past 3 seasons for the Texans. Coaches have heaped praise on Gilchrist this off-season going so far as to say his smarts should translate into a coaching career when he is done with football.
Thankfully for Raiders fans, Gilchrist is focused on becoming a great player first and an improvement in back end pass coverage would be a breath of fresh air compared to what has gone down in previous seasons.
Gilchrist is a solid player whose ability to communicate coverage calls and erase blown assignments should be a boon to this Raiders secondary. This is what Gilchrist brings to this team.
Covering Tight Ends
Sadly this shouldn’t be a place where Raiders expect Gilchrist to make a huge impact. In the above frame, Gilchrist is lined up in off-man coverage with an outside technique on Travis Kelce. Kelce’s alignment inside the numbers warns of an outside breaking route. Gilchrist is able to make a solid break on the ball but his lack of size matching up with Kelce gives up a reception for a first down.
This time Gilchrist lines up at the top of the screen in a cover 2 look. Gilchrist gets a good jump on the outside throw by Jimmy Garoppolo and arrives at the same time as the ball for a contested catch. Again great coverage but Gilchrist gets out-muscled for a 50/50 ball. The Raiders are hoping he can improve in this area and come down with a couple contested catches during the season.
Tackling and Run Support
Gilchrist might be on the slighter side for an NFL player but he is still a fundamentally sound tackler who uses his ability to diagnose and make tackles from all over the field. In this play against the Chiefs, Gilchrist reads a quick screen pass to Kareem hunt and makes a tackle near the sticks. Notice how Gilchrist comes to balance and tracks the ball carriers inside hip, perfect technique tracking from a 2 deep safety shell.
Later in the same game against the Chiefs, Gilchrist rolls down into the box. He shows more physicality on this play, defeating the crack block from the WR and getting into the backfield to make a tackle for no gain. Gilchrist is good for a few of these a game and while he’s not the big hitter that Karl Joseph is, he can still get it done in run support.
This is an area where Gilchrist really shines and will be leaned upon most in Guenther’s defense. Against the Titans, Gilchrist lines up on the near hash but disguises his coverage and plays what is called “the overhang” responsibility in a cover 4 concept. The savvy veteran passes off the seam by #2 and steps into the passing lane to take away the dig from #1.
Gilchrist figures to be utilized in various ways in Paul Guenther’s defense. Ideally he will be able to put his preparation and smarts to the test in zone coverage to take away concepts he’s seen on film.
Another area where Gilchrist’s football acumen really shines is his ability to make up for coverage break downs. In the clip above, Gilchrist has the deep middle 3rd in pass coverage. But the defense breaks down when both linebackers pass off their man to a gaping hole in the middle of the defense.
Gilchrist recognizes a man running free and is able to rally and stop the receiver from gaining additional yards. This type of safety play has been sorely needed since the Dennis Allen days and should translate into fewer gashing plays against the pass.
Marcus Gilchrist provides a boost in communication and should help minimize the frequency of big plays in the back of the defense. He is not without his limitations however and will need to be helped in scheme when it comes to defending bigger and stronger receivers.
With both starting safeties listed at 5’10, this Raiders defense will still need Guenther to scheme away TE’s and another safety will have to step up to fill this role. That being said, Gilchrist should tighten up the defense in other areas and should still be a valuable asset so long as he is surrounded by playmakers in the defense.