The clean slate approach the coaching staff is taking is going to help several players on the Las Vegas Raiders roster. Amik Robertson is one of the benefactors of coaches shedding preconceived notions and narratives and finding things out for themselves.
At 5-foot-8 and 187 pounds, Robertson isn’t the biggest cornerback. It’s accurate to say he’s small for not only NFL standards, but even collegiate measures. Yet, the previous Silver & Black regime saw enough in the Louisiana Tech product to make him a fourth-round pick (139th overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft. Robertson arrived with a reputation as a fiery corner who was equal parts takeaway artists and cover man. Primarily an outside corner for the Bulldogs, Robertson was a pure thief snaring 14 total interceptions in his three years at Louisiana Tech (he had five his freshmen and junior years with four his sophomore season) to go along with 34 passes defensed, four sacks, and 184 total tackles.
However, the third-year defender has shown little of what made him a stout outside corner in college.
His size is one thing, but when poor technique is added to to the mix, it compounds matters for Robertson. When you’re not the most imposing corner out there, you need to be sound technique- and footwork-wise. That’s not been the case for Robertson. So much so, the previous coaching staff dabbled with where exactly to play him. His lack of height and bulk makes playing him on the outside iffy. He got beat out soundly by then-rookie Nate Hobbs for slot cornerback duties last season. And when Robertson did play, the defensive coaches could only handle watching his lunging tackling attempts only catching air as he missed for so long.
It certainly looked like the lack of playing against NFL-caliber wide receivers at Louisiana Tech caught up to him and made Robertson a poor bet in the pros.
That’s all out of the window — for now. New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is now running the Silver & Black’s defensive ship. Defensive backs coach Chris Ash and Jason Simmons have joined him in reshaping the defense.
Clean slate or not, this season is likely Robertson’s last chance to make an impression, stick, and prove he can be the same pesky cornerback he was in college in the pros.
With the Raiders new defensive staff getting a close look at every defender they have on the 90-man roster, Robertson mixed in with the first-team defensive unit in OTAs and mandatory minicamp. Simmons, who also holds the title of pass game coordinator, said Robertson left an impression on him and the staff during mandatory minicamp.
“Oh, man. You know what, Amik is a guy that shows a lot of versatility. You know, we know he’s a guy that can move inside, outside, the whole nine,” Simmons said. “The thing that I’ve been most impressed about is how receptive he is to coaching. I’m really excited to coach him. And the way he’s able to take the coaching and then show it on the field. So, I’m excited to continue to work with him.”
And there’s that word again: versatility. Head coach Josh McDaniels speaks frequently about players not being one-trick ponies and able to play multiple positions. Yes, McDaniels may have been talking about the offensive line specifically when he said that, but flexibility is sought on both sides of the ball. Along with versatility, the coaching staff is leaving jobs up for grabs — although there are certain spots like quarterback, for example, that have a clear-cut starter. That means competition, a notion that both McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler are keen on.
“The first thing when I think about the group is just versatility, you know what I mean? You have so many guys that are so athletic,” Simmons said when asked about the plethora of cornerbacks on the roster. “You know, when you come here, you just realize that you’re blessed to have guys that can be used in multiple roles. So, you know, everybody can run, you know, everybody can play the run, everybody can play the pass, people can cover. So, we’re excited. It’s going to be a lot of competition in that room, and they realize it.”
Robertson certainly looks like a player realizing his Raider days may be numbered if he doesn’t continue to make an impression and prove himself a valuable part of the roster. The door is open for him to either claim a spot as a starter or carve out snaps in a rotation with the perimeter corner spots wide open. Incumbent Trayvon Mullen is still on the mend from offseason surgery and newcomers Rock Ya-Sin and Anthony Averett are competing just like Robertson and everyone else.
There’s the possibility Robertson hasn’t been coached up properly. Case in point, his college teammate L’Jarius Snead, taken with the 138th overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs (one pick before the Raiders snagged Robertson). The 6-foot, 189-pounder made the transition from safety to corner and assimilated well to the pro game in KC. Sneed play and started in 15 games last year picking off two passes to go along with 76 total tackles and a sack. With 24 games and 21 starts, Sneed has outpaced his former teammate Robertson (18 games and two starts).
The absence of consistently competing with and facing NFL-caliber wideouts in college is no longer valid for Robertson. It’s put up or shut up, especially with not only the three NFL offseasons under his belt, but the wide receivers the Raiders currently have on the roster. It’s a talented group that should sharpen the cornerbacks in Vegas.
“I love it. I love it. I love it. You know, and I just smile immediately because when you think about it, I mean, to go against these guys, you know, to take your lumps,” Simmons said. “To go out there and make plays. Hopefully that just gives these guys confidence, you know what I mean, that they can play and play at a high level. But it’s a great opportunity to play against such talent on the other side.”
Somewhere, somehow, Robertson lost that bravado and swagger that made him a must-account-for cornerback at Louisiana Tech. He needs to find it and prove that chip on his shoulder when he came into the league hasn’t completely eroded.