When it came to speed, there was zero concerns with Jakorian Bennett. The Maryland cornerback blazed a 4.30-flat 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine while measuring and weighing in at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds.
The Las Vegas Raiders’ fourth-round pick is showcasing that dazzling speed at training camp. It wasn’t just merely clocked jets, it’s showing up on the practice field. But where Bennett is impressing the coaching staff is maturity and retention.
“He’s mature, really a pleasure to work with,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said of the rookie corner. “Takes the game very seriously, intelligent, can learn quick and then take it from the meeting room to the field. You’ve seen him compete on some down-the-field throws. It’s hard to run by the guy because he runs very well and he’s trying to get his hands on balls, which we saw in college as well. So, just a competitive guy, good leader, quiet at times when he’s really paying attention.”
Maturity and retention are integral aspects of player development and McDaniels speaking on how Bennett displays both merits attention. As does running very well and getting hands on the football. All of those aspects were something that didn’t happen often from the Raiders secondary in Year 1 of the McDaniels experience. The cornerback group was bereft of impact players.
While the addition of veteran ballhawk Marcus Peters in free agency merits the primary attention — and for good reason considering he’s snatched 32-career interceptions — Bennett drawing attention for an NFL neophyte is a tremendous positive for the Raiders. Of course, Bennett will have to show his willingness to work, aptitude for learning, and speed translate into on-field production in both preseason tilts and regular season games.
“Yeah, he’s fast, like you said. A young guy, he’s fast,” Raiders safety Tre’Von Moehrig said of Bennett. “But that’s really all I can say right now. Like I said, he brings good energy as well. He’s hungry, eager to learn and fun to be around as well. He’s always wanting to be around the football and always wanting to learn.”
With the cornerback room unsettled and Peters one of the lone players at the position group penciled in as a starter, competition for starting snaps is going to be fierce as camp trends towards preseason action. Veteran Brandon Facyson — who offers solid size at 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds — was getting outside corner snaps before getting carted off this past Wednesday. However, McDaniels didn’t think it was a long-term injury.
Nonetheless, additional snaps are there for the taking for a re-tooled cornerback group. Be it Bennett or fellow newcomers Duke Shelley, David Long Jr., or incumbents like Nate Hobbs (who can start in the nickel/slot), Amik Robertson, and Sam Webb. But each will have to put the ability to make explosive plays on tape. That means getting their hands on the ball, taking it away via interception or forced fumble, and being sticky in coverage. That wasn’t something last year’s group of corners did particularly well.
“I think there’s a depth of competition there now, so different faces than they were last year,” McDaniels noted. “And again, different levels of that. JB is obviously in his first camp. Marcus Peters has got a lot more experience and wisdom in certain areas, certainly. And then we have a lot of guys in between that. Facyson and Duke and David Long, and on and on and on.
“So, I just think that there’s a lot of guys out there working and competing. Look, we have 11 receivers and 11 corners right now. And they all know that there won’t be 11 and 11 eventually, so everybody’s trying to give their best effort to be ready to go every day and compete. And that’s what we hope to build at each position on the roster, and you can really see those two groups really stand out.”