Problem was, that particular safety — Johnathan Abram — was more of a throwback to old-school football by being a one-dimensional sledge hammer who was a liability in almost every other aspect of the position. The Raiders new regime waived the first-round pick in early November last season, cutting ties with Abram.
Then came the offseason and Las Vegas went out and inked another safety who arrives quick and with ferocity in Marcus Epps. Signed to a two-year, $12 million contract ($10.34 million guaranteed with $7.75 million fully guaranteed at signing). The former Philadelphia Eagles hard-hitter brings the same bad intentions his Raider now New Orleans Saints predecessor had, but the this time, the Raiders are banking on Epps’ higher coverage IQ to give them a well-rounded type instead.
Running back Josh Jacobs, who missed the team’s offseason program but returned recently after he and the team agreed to a increased one-year deal, noticed a difference in the Raiders defense when he rejoined his teammates and mentioned Epps in particular.
“Yeah man, we got a lot faster, definitely seen that. We definitely got a lot faster. We got a lot of guys that love the game, and you’ve got a lot of guys with high IQs, and that’s the first thing I’ve noticed,” Jacobs began, “I think I saw Epps make a play today and I was like, ‘Damn.’ He got from one side of the field to the other and made a play that we thought was a touchdown. So, I mean just to be able to see that and obviously Maxx being the leader that he is on that defense to see him take another leap, I mean it’s just been crazy to me. It’s got me really excited for the season.”
Epps along with veteran cornerback Marcus Peters, highlights a new-look secondary in Las Vegas. Epps has a chance to be the glue to the secondary along with Peters with the former serving as the tone-setting enforcer in the backfield who has the range to go sideline-to-sideline while the latter is the thief of a cornerback who is both highly intelligent and opportunistic.
Peters is big on practicing the way you want to play translating into games and Epps is of similar ilk.
“It’s pretty redundant, but I think that it’s just routine, your approach of just coming to work every day,” Epps said of his message to the younger players on what it takes to have success in the league. “I think that’s the biggest thing of what I try to pass down to them is I’ve been in those shoes where you’re kind of just trying to work your way up. If you try to look too far ahead, you’re not going to accomplish what you need to accomplish in the moment. So, you’ve just got to stay in the moment and approach things day by day.”
It’ll be interesting to see how everything meshes in the defensive backfield. Especially for a group that is mix of veteran and young talent. Epps, in particular, has taken fellow safety Tre’Von Moehrig under his wing. The duo are listed as the starting free safety (Moehrig) and strong safety (Epps) on the Raiders’ first official depth chart, and them having solid rapport is a must.
“It’s definitely very important for the two safeties back there to be on the same page and the secondary as a whole. So, it kind of just started organically, just talking about ball and things like that, and then just as a secondary and just us as well just trying to hang out off the field get to know each other and whatnot,” Epps noted.
The 27-year-old Epps, who was voted as a team captain for the Raiders’ 2023 season, and the 24-year-old Moehrig have plenty to prove this coming year. Epps has the penchant to produce explosive plays as a hitter and tackler, but is light in the takeaways — he has only three career interceptions in four seasons to go along with 15 pass deflections and one forced fumble. Moehrig, meanwhile, arrived to Las Vegas from TCU with seven interceptions, 21 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles in three years as a Horned Frog. That difference maker hasn’t arrived as a Raider — yet.
“I mean, he’s very athletic. He’s got the skill set you need for a safety in this league, he can do it all,” Epps said of his tag team partner at safety. “So, I really like where he’s at and how much he’s grown, and I’m expecting some big things out of him.”
The communication and synergy Epps and Moehrig have built should parlay into game-day results. And provide an example of Epps’ importance on and off the field in Las Vegas.