The best part about training camp getting underway is we start to get some answers to the questions we’ve been asking all offseason. This is especially true with rookies since they are full of unknowns and have a lot to prove.
The Las Vegas Raiders will be relying on quite a few first-year players this season so it’s imperative that they get answers to the questions below as soon as possible.
Has his technique on vertical sets improved?
The Raiders turned some heads when they selected Alex Leatherwood with the 17th pick of the NFL draft. Many felt he was a second-round prospect and might have more potential at guard than tackle because of his struggles in pass protection.
Leatherwood’s pass-blocking efficiency ranked tied for 23rd among draft-eligible tackles last season and Alabama didn’t have him execute a lot of true pass sets. At the Senior Bowl, the big man tried changing up his technique by using more vertical sets but struggled mightily in one on ones. To put it simply, he’s going to need to improve in this area to hold down the edge in the NFL.
Not all is lost for the Alabama product, though. He’s more than athletic enough to get the technique down and likely just needs more reps. However, Leatherwood still must prove that in camp.
How quickly can he pick up the defense and how many spots can he learn?
There should be little to no doubt about Trevon Moehrig starting this season. However, how big his role is will certainly be a question moving forward. In college, he lined up at multiple spots and was extremely versatile. So, to maximize the former Horned Frog’s potential, it would behoove the Raiders to use him similarly.
That versatile role can’t happen though if Moehrig is out there running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Learning one position in an NFL defense is tough enough so nailing down multiple spots in one offseason is a steep uphill battle for a rookie. Hopefully, the second-round pick is up for the task and can hit the ground running — but realistically, this might take a year or two.
Is he polished enough as a pass rusher to carve out a third-down role?
Las Vegas shocked the football world once again by taking Malcolm Koonce in the third round. Many draft pundits viewed him as a Day 3 pick with a consensus fifth-round projection. Part of the reason why people were so low on Koonce was his inconsistency against the run, but he does bring something to the table as a pass rusher.
The Buffalo product can win with speed around the edge, but it will be difficult for him to find much playing time behind Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby, especially if he struggles as a run defender. Koonce will have to prove he’s effective enough at putting pressure on the quarterback to earn playing time as a rookie pass-rush specialist. That’s going to be difficult to do while making the leap from the MAC to the NFL.
What’s his best position?
On paper, this might seem like a straightforward question and easy to answer. But what position Divine Deablo will play for the Silver and Black is a bit of a mystery. The organization announced him as a linebacker on draft night and has him listed there on the roster, but Deablo was more of a safety in college.
The former Hokie does have experience playing on the second level, so it won’t be a completely foreign concept to him. However, Deablo has a tweener physical profile at 6’3” and 226 pounds, which could cause some problems playing in the box. That’s not to say he can’t do it, but it is a red flag at the moment and could make things difficult for the Raiders to find his best spot on the defense.
Granted, the third-round pick needs to get on the field first as he’s been on the PUP list all training camp, so far.
Can he play in the box?
Tyree Gillespie was primarily a free safety at Missouri, taking 76.8 percent of his snaps deep and just 14.1 percent in the box last season. Despite those figures, many feel he has a future as a strong safety in the league given his strengths against the run and size – 6’0” and 207 pounds.
Projections and athletic profiles are great, but Gillespie needs to prove on the field he can hold up as a strong safety and that will be more difficult given his lack of experience playing the position. However, putting together a few plays like the clips below should erase any doubt in the coaches’ minds.
Tyree Gillespie is a fantastic run defender. Does a great job tracking the ball carrier's near hip. Consistently delivers a jarring blow. pic.twitter.com/5OJYm1U1KW— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) May 4, 2021
How quickly can he make the transition to covering the slot?
Admittedly, I’m stealing this one from the early chatter surrounding training camp. Vinny Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Nate Hobbs has been getting reps with the first-stringers and the coaching staff has praised the young defensive back.
Hobbs’ role with the team will likely be as a nickelback with Trayvon Mullen and Casey Hayward holding down the outside. In college, the Illinois product only spent about 6.3 percent of his time covering the slot, so it’s somewhat of foreign territory for him. The good news is, he seems to be making tremendous progress and hopefully, he’ll be able to solve a long-standing issue for the Raiders.
Can he be a part of the solution now?
Jimmy Morrissey is in a very interesting situation for a seventh-round pick. Las Vegas is expected to start Andre James at center, who has very little NFL experience and experience playing the position in general, so the starting spot is up for grabs. Nick Martin would likely be the next option, but it’s not like he’s a polished veteran who has the job locked down.
In other words, Morrissey heads into training camp with a legitimate shot to compete for playing time. Granted those odds are slim, but to quote a great philosopher: “So you’re telling mere there’s a chance?” It might take a lot but a strong preseason could lead to Morrissey making the 53-man roster and carving out a contributing role with how many question marks the Raiders have at center.