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Raiders coach Jon Gruden loves veteran defensive efforts

Vets like Casey Hayward, Cory Littleton and Denzel Perryman are impressing Gruden so far

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers
Casey Hayward
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games, it is evident that the Las Vegas Raiders’ defense is much better and it is a big reason why the team is 3-0 and is one of five unbeaten teams in the NFL.

While defensive end Maxx Crosby — who is putting together a Defensive Player of the Year-like start — and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley are getting a lot of deserved praise, Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden talked about the impact the of three key defensive veterans who are also contributing to the Raiders’ hot start.

Casey Hayward:
The 10-year veteran who played under Bradley with the Los Angeles Chargers for the past four seasons, was a post-draft addition to the roster. Yet, he has been a key starter. Hayward, 32, is enjoying a career resurgence and he has shown he can be a shut-down cornerback.

Gruden on Heyward:

“Well, he’s a good player. That’s the one thing we’re missing, these guys are not just former Chargers or Gus Bradley’s (former players), these are good players. We thought Hayward was a problem for us twice a year when we played against him. We had a lot of respect for Perryman when we played against him. So, it’s good to have him here. He’s a solid player. He’s a good cover guy. He’s smart, he sees it. He sees route patterns develop. He’s been a great tackler. He doesn’t give up big plays, and he’s been a great acquisition in the locker room and behind the scenes too. So, we’re happy to have him.”

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Cory Littleton
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cory Littleton:
Littleton signed a three-year $35 million contract in 2020 as a free agent from the Los Angeles Rams. He was considered a high-impact signing. Yet, he had a poor first season with the Raiders. He is playing better this season. He had 134 tackles for the Rams in 2019 but had just 82 tackles for Las Vegas in 2020. Littleton has 24 tackles this season and has two games with 10 tackles.

Gruden on Littleton:

“Not that our previous defense hurt him, I think this defense is more suited for him. I think zone coverage. He keys the quarterback. The fact that we have a rush too. Everybody talks about the system. It’s the guys up front that are really making a lot of this happen. The quarterback doesn’t have all day to stand back there and survey the field. The ball is coming out quick and when it does and you key the quarterback and get jumps on plays, you can make plays. But I think this defense suits him. I think the front and the improved pass rush up there helps, and he’s also a great special teams player and a great guy. So, we’re happy to have him.”

Denzel Perryman: Like Heyward, Perryman was with Bradley for the past four season with the Chargers. He signed with the Carolina Panthers this season and was in danger of not making the roster. The Raiders traded for Perryman late in the preseason after having several injures at linebacker. Perryman, who is a good player who is oft injured, has been a standout for the Raiders, likely even more than they expected. He has 36 tackles in three games with 10 tackles being his lowest tackle production in a game this season. His production has been wild.

Gruden: on Perryman “You know, he is a good player. Let’s just say it like it is. He’s a good linebacker. He’s always been a good linebacker. He’s healthy. He’s had a hard time staying healthy. He knows this system and he’s proven that he has talent and instincts, and he is a contact player. I guarantee he’s proven that. And we just need to keep getting better. He needs to keep getting better, keep asserting himself and so does everybody around him. We haven’t played the perfect game by far.”