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Rookie Rearview: Deablo, Koonce earning more snaps

In final 4 games, Raiders should give younger players opportunities to sink or swim

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Las Vegas Raiders rookie linebacker Divine Deablo, bottom, hangs on for the tackle against the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday. Deablo was blunt about his assessment of the Raiders’ performance in the ugly 48-9 loss.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Game-day performance is one thing. But what Divine Deablo delivered in the postgame press conference was on another level. The blunt-force type honesty was both refreshing and enlightening.

“Personally I feel like a lot of people just, for lack of a better term just ‘fold,’” the Las Vegas Raiders rookie linebacker said after the Raiders’ 48-9 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday. “They’ll just lay down, come to practice not ready to practice. I know I’m a rookie but I don’t want my teammates to do that. I want to make sure they’re ready to practice and we bring that intensity every day.”

“Honestly no. We just weren’t doing our job. Lack of communication. Lack of knowing our responsibility. At the end of the day, it’s on us,” Deablo added.

Self-efficacy from the 23-year-old third-round pick that’s made the position switch from collegiate safety to pro linebacker is an encouraging sign. Deablo didn’t bury anyone specifically and didn’t absolve himself of any responsibilities. In a 2021 season that’s turned Silver & Bleak, honesty is needed.

As is the Raiders allowing Deablo to maintain or increase his snap count while also letting fellow rookie Malcolm Koonce to play more.

First, let’s hit on Deablo. Sunday’s clash in Kansas City was his first official start and the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder finished tied with the team-lead in total tackles (10, five solo, five combined) in the 52 snaps he received on defense (Deablo’s snaps account for 79 percent of the Raiders’ total defensive snaps). For comparison’s sake, safety Johnathan Abram, who also had a team-high 10 total tackles (four solo, six assists) played all the defensive snaps.

Deablo’s speed is something to behold from the linebacker spot (and not surprising considering he was a safety at Virginia Tech and ran a 4.42 at his pro day) and while his game definitely needs refinement — such as not losing track or getting beat by tight end Travis Kelce (who does this routinely to many a defender) — the early returns are promising. Las Vegas is surely banking on Deablo’s coverage and takeaway skills at Virginia Tech translating as he furthers his career as a Raider. Deablo is the prototype linebacker teams need to combat the pass-heavy offenses in today’s NFL.

“Every team is going to need a matchup guy who is a big safety or a small linebacker who can play the run and cover tight ends. We all need them with how the league is going and he’s that kind of player,” an AFC personnel executive told NFL.com in Deablo’s scouting report.

Now, let’s move to Koonce. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Buffalo product is the initial half of the Raiders third-round haul (he was taken No. 79 overall with Deablo following at No. 80). Koonce’s participation hasn’t been as much as his fellow third-round rookie, but he’s has flashed in his limited opportunities. Against Kansas City, the defensive end showcased good get-off and a strong straight-arm right jab and push to the offensive tackle, dislodging him from his anchor spot and moving him backwards, which allowed Koonce to close in, wrap up Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and drop him for the sack.

Las Vegas Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs
Raiders rookie defensive end Malcolm Koonce (51) sacks Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the third quarter of last Sunday’s game.
Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It was a display of patience, power and poise from a rookie who produced a ton at small-school Buffalo (the home of a former Raiders pass rush terror). Koonce’s quarterback takedown this past Sunday gives him two on the year and back-to-back sacks in the past two games. His snap count did increase against Kansas City (15) compared to his season debut against Washington (seven). Giving Koonce additional snaps to help refine his pass rush toolbox and give him film to study only helps him grow.

Similar for Deablo (sans the pass rush part, of course).

With the Raiders at 6-7 overall and on the outside of the playoff chase looking in, it behooves the coaching staff to give Deablo, Koonce and other younger players ample snaps the last four games. As coaches are apt to say, nothing — be it practice, scrimmages, etc. — simulates the game like playing on gamedays. Give the rookie snaps for invaluable experience, teach tape and learning lessons. Las Vegas has nothing to lose doing so. Well, besides games, but that’s par for the course now.

Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia noted during his media session on Monday circumstances have forced several lineup changes, so perhaps a steady stream of snaps for Koonce and Deablo are on the horizon.

“I anticipate playing with a different team every week. That’s kind of what happens. … We’re always going to try to put players in competitive situations,” Bisaccia said. “All of a sudden, we have Malcolm Koonce playing. All of a sudden, we have Divine Deablo playing. All of a sudden, we’ve dressed some different guys offensive line wise and they’ve gotten some different snaps. So, we’ll see how that shakes out. But I always think there’s changes from week-to-week in our league.”

Further evaluation and snaps for Koonce and Deablo shouldn’t be week-to-week. It should be steady in the final four. Let the rookies sink or swim; for better or worse. It’s not like Bisaccia and Co. can suffer anything more embarrassing that what happened in Arrowhead this past Sunday. And, what’s looking very likely, the next coaching staff would be well served to have game tap to evaluate how they’ll shaping the 2022 roster.