Discombobulated is an apt word to describe the Las Vegas Raiders defense not only last season, but years prior. Disjointed is a good description, too.
Thus it’s no surprise to see communication is the name of the game for the Silver & Black as they journey through training camp. To a defender and a coach, Las Vegas’ focus is getting all 11 on the same page and talking to one another, all in hopes of improving a defense that hasn’t ranked higher than 18th in the last 20 seasons.
You have to go all the way back to the 2002 season to find “greatness” from the Silver & Black defensive antics as the team ranked sixth in points allowed and 11th in yards yielded. That’s 11 head coaches that cycled throughout that time with Josh McDaniels heading into Year 2 of his tenure as Raiders lead.
So it’s no wonder McDaniels and his football team are all about communication.
“I think we have a lot of guys that have really taken ownership of the communication on that side of the ball,” the head coach said during his post training camp practice media session this past Sunday. “I think we’re starting to see where we’re more connected on a play-to-play basis, and defense is all about 11 guys playing together. And if you got nine guys doing one thing and two doing another, it’s tough to win because usually the offense will find the problem.”
Opposing offenses surely found the problem, although they didn’t have to look very hard. Outside of defensive end Maxx Crosby, there were little to no other Raider defenders that had to be accounted for. And the lack of synergy and communication only compounded matters. So much so, Las Vegas continued it’s cellar-dwelling ways in the league rankings sporting the 26th group in terms of points allowed and 30th squad in yards given up.
In come a slew of new defenders — highlighted by veteran safety Marcus Epps and cornerback Marcus Peters and rookie cornerback Jakorian Bennett and eventually seventh-overall pick Tyree Wilson — to buoy incumbents like Crosby, linebacker Divine Deablo, and a potential resurgence from defensive end Chandler Jones.
McDaniels commended Epps’ ability to come in and become a vocal leader on the backend of the Raiders defense. The head coach noted Tre’Von Moehrig has been taken under the veterans wing and they hardly leave each other’s side. That’s a good thing as Epps is getting the backfield lined up and ensuring defensive backs know their job.
“So, I think our guys are really embracing what we’re doing,” McDaniels said. “And again, that secondary as a whole, I’d include the linebacker group in there, if you know what you’re going to do on every play, you know your job, you know where your teammates are going to be, it allows you to be more aggressive and play faster and I think we’re starting to see some of that.”
Not surprisingly, Peters and linebacker Robert Spillane echoed the head coach’s sentiments.
“Yeah, we’re hungry. We want to up everything that we’re going to do on defense and like I said we want to show our effort, we want our communication to be displayed in our play, Peters said. “And then our play is going to going to be able to show all our effort.”
“It’s having 11 hungry football players who are on the same page, who are running the same defenses, who are communicating with each other, who are flying to the ball,” Spillane noted. “Everyone’s fast in this league, everyone knows how to run, everybody’s got fast players; but it’s those teams that don’t have to turn and run and think, ‘Oh, should I run to that ball.’ No, it’s turn and haul ass, we’re getting this guy to the ground and we’re trying to steal that ball from him at all costs.
The communication and in-sync nature of the Raiders defense got tested in joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers. And preseason clashes along with regular season games is where the true proof will be.
Actions most definitely speak louder than words, and thus far in camp, Las Vegas’ defense has taken the ball away from their own offense.
Doing so against another team will merit even more attention.