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Raiders 2022: Special teams isn’t overlooked in Las Vegas

Tom McMahon’s Raiders coverage unit must be good with additions

NFL: Miami Dolphins Training Camp
Mack Hollins is adept at running down punts and pinning the opposition deep within their own territory.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tom McMahon likely didn’t need much convincing to stay within the AFC West and join the Las Vegas Raiders. Not with a stout battery of Daniel Carlson, A.J. Cole III and Trent Sieg at place kicker, punter, and long snapper, respectively. That’s a loaded unit for the longtime special teams coach who heads West from the Denver Broncos to the desert.

That trio aside, however, it’s the Raiders special teams coverage unit that needs to elevate its game. And McMahon must’ve been ecstatic when Las Vegas snared Mack Hollins in free agency. The wide receiver by trade is a stellar gunner who’s adept at running down punts and pinning opponents deep in their own territory. That’s a must-happen for McMahon.

“We’re going to try to create a full-court defense. So, when I say full-court defense, when you’re talking from the punt team, you’re talking from a kickoff cover perspective, we want to make sure that any of the drive starts that we cover are back behind the 20-yard line,” McMahon said during his April media session.

Hollins’ addition will go a long way to accomplishing that. For three season with the Miami Dolphins, Hollins played in over 50 percent of the special teams snaps (60 percent being his highest participation rate this past season). The 6-foot-4, 221-pound North Carolina product uses his size and physicality to avoid the jam and uses his speed to sprint downfield while tracking the ball in flight.

To further show special teams is a point of emphasis and not overlooked in Las Vegas, the Raiders went out and added linebackers Micah Kiser and Kenny Young in free agency. Both were with Denver while McMahon ran the Broncos special teams crew and are familiar him now all three are Raiders. Kiser took 138 snaps (55 percent of the total snaps) on McMahon’s special teams unit while Young, who was a regular on Denver’s defense due to the unit being decimated by injuries, can play special teams, too.

The additions will serve the Raiders well as Dallin Leavitt returns to lead a group — the safety led all players with 348 snaps on special teams last season — that lost contributors in linebacker Marquel Lee (240 snaps), linebacker Cory Littleton (209 ), cornerback Keisean Nixon (157) and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (150).

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Safety Dallin Leavitt (32) accounted for the most special teams snaps by a Raider last season with 348 (72.96 percent of the total snaps).
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Joining Leavitt, Hollins, Kiser and Young will be young Raiders linebacker Divine Deablo (254 snaps on special teams in 2021), safety Tre’Von Moehrig (190), cornerback Nate Hobbs (177), safety Tyree Gillespie (150) and safety Roderic Teamer (125). Deablo, Moehrig and Hobbs are expected to compete and/or win starting roles this coming season so their special teams participation may lessen, but McMahon noted don’t be surprised to see “starters” on his special teams units.

“You have to use starters in this league. They have to be ready to play. If they’re not your starter on your punt team, you have to use your starting linebackers,” McMahon said. “They’re going to eventually play for you. And I think that the teams that use your best players, and that would be my philosophy, let’s put the best players out there, you’ve got to use your best players in order to get the best plays.”

Deablo and Gillespie stick out the most in the aforementioned group. The former offers freakish size/speed ratio at 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds with 4.42 speed. The latter is a well-built 6-foot, 207-pound sledgehammer of a hitter that boasts 4.38 speed. Deablo offers versatility as both defender and special teamer and Gillespie can serve as an enforcer gunner opposite of Hollins.

The easiest path to a 53-man roster spot is carving a niche on special teams. It’s what made Hollins a must-keep for Miami and a must-sign for Las Vegas. It’s also how former Raider Littleton made his way onto the Rams roster before becoming an every-down starter as a linebacker. And it’s why Leavitt remains a steadfast Raider, despite only seeing 249 defensive snaps (21.50 percent) at free safety — in comparison to Moehrig’s 1,152 snaps on defense (that’s a stupendous 99.48 percent of Las Vegas total defensive snaps) as the starting free safety.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Las Vegas Raiders
Safety Tyree Gillespie has both the size, speed, and viciousness to be a special teams mainstay as a gunner/enforcer.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Competition and depth are something the Raiders roster has and is continuing to build. And that bodes well for all three aspects — offense, defense, and special teams. McMahon noted the Silver & Black special teams under his command will have a similar thing with former special teams boss/interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, who is know a Green Bay Packer.

“The big thing that we are going to carry on from what Rich has done is strain. And when I say strain, strain is going to be our top word from the standpoint of, if you’re straining, every single player straining, that takes care of the competes, that takes care of effort,” McMahon noted. “What you want is, you want teams around the league to say, hey, look, that’s a team that’s going to strain.

“They’re going to strain, they’re going to out-compete you, they’re going out effort, they’re going out tackle you. But all of those things, tackling effort, compete, blocking; they come down to one word and that’s strain. And we’re going to out-strain people and Rich did a good job of establishing that. We’re not going to lose that. We’re going to out practice people, but it’s going to come down to the word strain.”