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Raiders’ Josh McDaniels: See ball, get ball

Las Vegas head coach reiterates need to find smart, explosive players on defense at NFL Combine

NFL: Combine
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels fields questions during his media availability session at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

While the plan has yet to unfold and details are scarce, one thing is clear: Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels see eye-to-eye on the Las Vegas Raiders roster needs. The general manager and head coach, respectively, speak on how the Silver & Black need smart and tough players.

And during McDaniels’ media availability at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday morning, the want was only further amplified.

“That’s — honest to God, it’s — we’re going to try to improve the competition at every position on defense,” McDaniels said. “We don’t — our depth, obviously, is something that we need to improve across the board. But, look, we need tough, smart, explosive players, period. And we need to do that on offense, we need to do it on defense, we need to do it in the return game. We have some good core components to our roster that we can build around. But we need to get tougher, smarter, more explosive, you know, with the people that are coming to our football team.

“And so, there’s not one spot that I would say, you know, is more — that we’re going to stress this more than that. We need to get good football players every opportunity that we can and we’re going to take every avenue to do that.”

This echoes what Ziegler has been saying from the get-go.

Houston Texans v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels, left, and general manager Dave Ziegler are on the same page of what type of players they want in the building.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The general manager and final say on the roster spoke most recently of this during his appearance on the Bussin’ With The Boys podcast (recorded back on Jan. 20) and McDaniels saying it up at the podium reinforces the Raiders’ plan. While McDaniels referenced the three aspects of football — offense, defense, and special teams — he did provide more insight on what it means defensively. And that’s where it gets interesting, as it harkens to the basic see ball, get ball mentality instilled in youth football.

“Yeah, that’s — when I say explosive on defense, I mean, you either got to touch the quarterback or touch the ball. And so, we’re looking for guys that can do those things, you know?,” McDaniels began “And so, to be able to get after the quarterback, to be able to, you know, affect the passing game in that way or to be able to get the ball out, whether that’s creating fumbles, touching the ball, deflections, interceptions, you know, certainly, I think we’d all agree that our defense, you know, could improve in those areas. You know, we have some players that did some of those things. We need more of them.”

Other than pass rusher Maxx Crosby (12.5 sacks, 36 quarterback hits, and 22 tackles for loss this past season) and flashes from other defenders, McDaniels is right in his assessment the Raiders are severely lacking in that department. The drought of playmakers who can disrupt the quarterback and/or get hands on the ball is disconcerting for the Silver & Black. Even Crosby can improve with forcing the ball loose as he takes down quarterbacks (three forced fumbles in 2022, seven in his entire four-year career).

For much of last season, Raiders defenders saw the ball, but did little to get the ball as the opposition either found the end zone too frequently or got critical first downs to stave off Las Vegas. The secondary, in particular, was devoid of defenders who could thwart opponent’s passing game by either batting away passes in flight or taking them away as interceptions, and even punching the ball loose for forced fumbles. But again, that last portion is of particular importance. Raiders defenders did try to punch the ball loose but those attempts didn’t work as frequently as hoped and resulted in extra yards for pass catchers and running backs, alike.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos
Getting safety Tre’Von Moehrig (25) back to the ballhawk ways he displayed at TCU and his rookie year is something that didn’t happen for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

And, like many have boisterously noted, coaching is a vital part of player development. And there were instances were proper teaching and player executions were amiss for the 2022 Raiders.

What compounds matters is previous regimes did bring in players on defense in hopes of alleviating issues and this current crop of management hasn’t increased the return on investment. Granted, it was Year 1, however, the current coaching staff’s inability to harness safety Tre’Von Moehrig’s ballhawk skills he exhibited at TCU and as a rookie didn’t materialize into anything further his sophomore season.

Again, coaching matters. As does player execution.

But in order to obtain all that, McDaniels again stressed the need to bring more players who are football intelligent to the desert.

“Look, I think you — you know, there’s certainly things you want all your players to have. Again, we can’t build a tough, smart football team without getting tough, smart players. So those things are kind of, you know, at the highest end of the spectrum for me,” McDaniels said. “But when you talk about certain players that you’re trying to add to your roster, you know, explosive players on offense or defense, I mean, that’s what our league is now. You know, it’s more of a space game, it’s more of an ability to make plays with the ball in your hands or to create disruptive plays on defense. So it’s close to the stop.”