All offseason the Las Vegas Raiders harped on creating more explosive plays. Specifically, creating turnovers by getting hands on the ball or simply taking it way on defense. That wasn’t a frequent occurrence in Year 1 of the Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels era.
Thus, the Raiders general manager and head coach, respectively, methodically added pieces to the roster to ensure takeaways were more frequent on a lackadaisical defense by adding veteran free agents like cornerback Marcus Peters and safety Marcus Epps while drafting prospects like edge rusher Tyree Wilson and cornerback Jakorian Bennett this past April.
“It’ll be a great opportunity for any young player, for a second year player to get out there and really test themselves, their rules. They’re going to see things they haven’t seen before, they’re going to play and compete against guys they haven’t competed against,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said during his Friday media availability. “So, I’m excited for all our guys and the younger guys that will have an opportunity to play, I think they’ve earned whatever that role will be. Hopefully we’ll go out there and do our jobs well.”
Through training camp — specifically joint practices — and preseason action, the Raiders were showcasing fruits of the personnel department’s labor by doing their jobs well. Defensive backs and linebackers alike were exhibiting ballhawk skills intercepting passes in joint practices and providing tantalizing takeaways in preseason clashes. The linebackers particularly picking off passes was eyebrow raising as the coverage at the second level has been a sore point for the Silver & Black.
You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who’ll say defense wasn’t the Raiders weakest point in seasons past. The performance throughout the years have scuttled expectations from the group as they’ve been the lower echelon of league rankings.
“I think everyone on this defense kind of has a chip on their shoulder,” offseason free agent addition Robert Spillane said during his media availability last month. “We’re looked at as a weak point, one of the weakest defenses in the league, and we don’t see ourselves as that. So, it’s our opportunity to go out there and compete every day, make each other better and just be a cohesive unit. And I really think we’re coming together and doing that.”
Las Vegas showed the potential to change the narrative.
Peters, who inked a one-year, $3-million deal in late July, is a true takeaway artist with 32 career interceptions under his belt while also showcasing the requisite swagger at the position. He may be 30 years old, but the eight-year veteran is an intelligent cover corner who has shutdown capabilities when healthy. His presence in the secondary as a starting outside cornerback not only forces offenses to account for him, but provides a conduit of communication and energy for the entire Las Vegas defense.
Peters will be flanked by promising corners Nate Hobbs and Bennett while having Epps and Tre’Von Moehrig behind him at safety. At the second level are going to be linebackers Spillane, Divine Deablo (middle) and Luke Masterson. In front of them is a re-tooled defensive line that features elite edge rusher Maxx Crosby. He’ll be book ended by youngsters Malcolm Koonce and Wilson.
Crosby himself is an explosive defender for his penchant to wreck opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen, alike. But having a more disruptive and opportunistic linebackers and defensive backs behind him exponentially help Crosby as it’ll force quarterbacks to hold on to the football just a bit longer than anticipated.
“I think obviously it starts up front. We bring pressure, and the quarterback can’t hold the ball up. So, DBs know that, and they’re breaking and not thinking or second guessing themselves, so it all goes together,” Crosby said in early August. “And like I said, you can’t leave out the linebackers either. Spillane is a freaking dog, he’s going crazy. You’ve got a Deablo, Masterson, all those guys. they’re playing hard and getting better and better. So, it’s exciting.”
Excitement must become reality for the Raiders defense.
Spillane brought to light the best mentality the new-look Silver & Black unit can have.
“Yeah, the ball changes the game. These turnovers change the outcome of games. So, we’ve been preaching and preaching it, and now you just put it to practice,” Spillane said during his media availability this time last month. “And this is just a practice, so what’s the next step? Bring it to the game.”
Let’s see that same mentality and performance now that games count, shall we, Raiders?