With less than a month until the draft, the Oakland Raiders began to put vital pieces together. Additionally, key 2017 pieces will look towards this year and what changes new schemes could have on their futures. FPC Raiders writers Anthony Zaragoza, Chris Simmons, and Ray Aspuria comment on the old and new for 2018.
Paul Guenther’s defense requires a disruptive DT. Who should fill that role?
Zaragoza: Ideally, this would have been Eddie Vanderdoes. Nevertheless, the former UCLA Bruin struggled during his rookie season last year. Therefore, the Raiders will look elsewhere. Reggie McKenzie was not able to add an impact DT position via free agency this off-season, so the best bet for an improvement on talent at that position will be through the draft. Either Vita Vea at #10 or maybe Taven Bryan or Harrison Phillips in the second round, the Raiders need to get an impact player at DT early in the draft. Those guys could improve the defensive line from day 1.
Simmons: I expect the raiders will likely try and find this position in the draft. It seems as though Marcus Hurst will be able to move on from his scare at the combine. Athletically, Hurst would be their best non-Khalil Mack lineman in years. Vita Vea would likely draw significant interest as well, but he has questions about his pass rush ability considering his massive frame. The only other incumbents would either be Reggie McKenzie scholarship players such as Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes.
Aspuria: A high-round rookie, if available. That list includes Vita Vea, Maurice Hurst, Tim Settle, RJ McIntosh, and Nathan Shepherd. Ideally, Eddie Vanderdoes fills the disruptor role, but the 2017 third-rounder’s effectiveness waned before seventh-rounder Treyvon Hester got more snaps.
Which 2017 should make the biggest push for a starting job?
Simmons: Nicholas Morrow likely has a legitimate chance to start at Weakside Linebacker next season. He spent some time there in 2017 but depending on which level of defense the Raiders address, Morrow could grab hold of a three-down role. Morrow displays solid pass coverage chops and should benefit from a season in his belt. He struggled with play recognition, which was amplified because of breakdowns in the secondary. With safety help over the top or clear coverage rules, Morrow could end up a solid starter.
Aspuria: Treyvon Hester. The seventh-rounder is a bowling ball and can collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback. With a consistent system in place and a sound defensive line coach in Mike Trgovac, Hester can be even better.
With Reggie Nelson returning in a mentor ole, what advice could he impart to Obi Melifonwu?
Aspuria: How lethal the lack of speed can be despite still having a sharp mind. Nelson can still diagnose a play but his legs so not carry him to the proper spot as quick as they once did. Youngsters would be wise to soak up as much knowledge (reading coverages, patterns/routes and QB eyes and tendencies) as they can.
Zaragoza: Reggie Nelson’s last two seasons under Paul Guenther in Cincinnati were outstanding. Nelson had 12 total interceptions and one pro bowl appearance (2015) under the new Raiders defensive coordinator. Now both reunite in Oakland, Nelson has the chance to be an extension of the coach to Obi Melifonwu and Karl Joseph. Nelson understands what Guenther needs out of his secondary. He can pass that knowledge to the young guys in the defensive backfield. The 2017 second round pick has all the talent in the world and teammate Joseph has the ability to take his game to another level in 2018, Nelson could play the “Charles Woodson” role in the secondary. Having a leader like that can help a young secondary transition to a new defense faster.
Simmons: I think Reggie Nelson has made a career out of knowing where to be and when to be there. Most of his interceptions are not coming from incredible athletic feats, but rather timing being in position to make a play. Timing is a natural thing but perhaps he can help Karl Joseph adjust his play style to be more subdued until the decisive moment. For Obi, the answer is more complicated as his best role is unclear as the last pick of a deposed staff that spent the season injured. Obi must learn to play the safety position at the professional level with sound technique and positioning more than anything else does. If Reggie Nelson can give him that, he will progress from his primordial football stages.
Under Gruden, what aspect of Derek Carr’s game do you envision changing first?
Simmons: I am not certain what drill exactly does this, but Derek Carr must increase his awareness. Specifically, he needs a better understanding of body positioning. Each of his three injuries that have cost him games has come from ending plays in poor positions. Some of this knows when to throw the ball away, some of it knows when to get down, and still more derives from trying to get too much in one play. If he can develop a better sense of himself,overall he will finish seasons completely healthy and make fewer “panic” throws.
Zaragoza: Even though Derek Carr played in his third straight Pro Bowl in 2017, he played timid last season. Playing with an injured back and bland offense did not help either, but Carr was not himself in 2017. Having a coach like Jon Gruden should boost his moral back this upcoming season. Gruden will push the former Fresno State star back to elite status, mentally and physically. Knowing the type of player Carr is, he will answer the call. Having Carr back to his 2016 self, making plays and slinging the ball down the field will be a key to the Raiders offense this season.
Aspuria: Run, Derek, run! You would think based on the fact he does not do it much Carr runs a 5.26 40. In all honesty, he should have gotten his first career rushing TD long ago. Scrambling adds a new dynamic to Carr’s game. Plus, as Gruden alluded to, I would give DC the green light to gallop to keep drives alive and move the sticks. Carr has more speed than he is shown and the ability to run keeps defenses honest.