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Raiders training camp: Much Ado About Complexity

New lingo is the early focus for Patrick Graham and his defense

Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp
Raiders senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan, far right, runs a drill with defenders Maxx Crosby, center, Chandler Jones, far left, and other during the team’s training camp session this past Sunday.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Hell no! Am I even allowed to say that?”

That was Patrick Graham’s straight-to-the-point but hilarious answer when asked if his Las Vegas Raiders defense accomplished what he wanted in the first three practices of training camp. The defensive coordinator is a breath of fresh air for the Silver & Black, both for the players and other coaches and for the media. He’s equal parts transparent and with a quick wit, but he’s also not one to give away the trade secrets either.

“I’m a coach. I mean, come on now. We got a lot of stuff to improve on. No. They’re working hard, but no, we haven’t,” Graham expanded during the press conference. “The standard is the standard. And like coach (Josh McDaniels) said, we’re trying to build championship habits. And it’s a process. So, it’s an imperfect game, but we’re striving to be perfect. And so, if you ask me as a coach, no, but they’re working at it. They’re working at it.”

The Raiders are very much a work in progress in all three aspects of the game: Offense, defense, and special teams. Despite having star pieces in every phase, new systems and new philosophies are being brought in and attempting to meld what’s working with all that newness takes time.

Graham himself has a reputation of being a quality defensive play caller. And with that comes the notion his scheme and system can be complex. Indeed, Graham will ask his players to do a lot of things. One of them is to think less and let instincts take over. Another is to do your job and, if everyone is doing theirs, the defense as a whole will work. That’s the attention to detail and accountability the Raiders have emphasized in camp.

Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp
Younger players can learn from how both quarterback Derek Carr, left, and pass rusher Maxx Crosby, right, approach practices and games.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

But it’s not complexity that Graham is focused on or even worried about. It’s the lingo.

“I mean, football again is not as complex as everybody thinks,” Graham began, “I mean, football you have a single high zone, you have a single high man. They played that here last year. You have a split safety, zone split safety, man, they played that here last year. I mean, we’re not reinventing wheeling wheel anywhere. Again, from each system it’s usually language. That’s probably the thing that’s different. And the guys have embraced it.

“I mean, this is a very successful defense last year and we’re just trying to build on that. And then obviously some of the language changes, but it’s really not as complex as everybody thinks. There’s only so much you could do out there on the field to take away what the offense is doing, and it’s usually a different language.”

Communication is vital to any good defense and getting every single Raider from starter to backup and deep reserve on the same page in terms of the new language is mission critical. Graham, like other coaches, is bestowing a bit of providence on his players in regards to learning multiple position. Preparing for all eventualities is championship culture and the Raiders are doing it across the board. Now, of course, there are spots where learning another position is moot. You’re not asking Derek Carr to become a running back or wide receiver as he’s the franchise quarterback. But you get the gist.

Perhaps Graham’s funniest answer, other than the quote at the beginning of this piece, is when he was asked about his vision for second-year safety Tre’Von Moehrig.

“My vision? For him to be good. Does that work?,” Graham rhetorically asked back. “I want him to be good, help us win a lot of football games. I think what we got to do, he’s in his second year, he’s shown the willingness to work. He’s shown the willingness to communicate, that’s the one thing from that position we’re asking those guys to talk a lot, pre and post snap, talk a lot. So, that’s one important thing.”

The Vets & The Youngsters

Graham sees the relationship between the older and younger players as a symbiotic — mutually beneficial. The younger players can learn from the earned wisdom of their older counterparts while the veterans can get motivated by the young bloods.

“Well, it’s always good to have veterans so that you have guys that know the system, are more comfortable obviously communicating, have seen all the different looks and plus they have some leadership on the field and off the field in terms of teaching the young guys how to prepare their get their bodies ready for training camp, how to study tape, how to watch practice when you’re not in to get the mental reps,” Graham said. “And then the young guys, just their energy usually helps push the veterans. They’re usually younger, they’re healthier, they’re ready to run at the drop of a dime, so that always usually helps the energy in practice and helps push guys.”

He’s On To You

Graham’s quick wit was on full display when he was queried about a transition from a 3-4 base to a 4-3 front.

“I think you misspoke. I’ve never spoken about transitioning to anything. Nice one. I’m on to you now,” Graham said. “I’ll say this, however we deploy the front game one we’re going to do what we think is best. So, if it’s 3-4 or 4-3, whatever they call that, we’re going to do what we think is best. The guys are learning multiple positions. Here’s the thing, the roster is so limited we only have a certain number of players. Guys have to be able to do more than one thing. That’s how you increase your value, that’s how you increase the possibility of you staying here, being on the team.”