BRADENTON, Fla. – Raiders are woefully thin at cornerback. Have been for some time.
David Amerson has been concussed, worked through a shoulder issue and will now miss a second straight game with a foot problem. First-rounder Gareon Conley has been shut down indefinitely, maybe for good. Demetrius McCray was signed for reinforcement, and even he’s down for the count.
None of those guys will play Sunday night in Miami.
That leaves TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith to cover well. That’s it. There aren’t any career cornerbacks in reserve.
Obi Melifonwu will come off injured reserve Saturday and could play there in a pinch. Safety Keith McGill started his professional career at corner.
The secondary as a whole is unsettled, with impact strong safety Karl Joseph questionable with a groin injury that sidelined him in Buffalo.
That’s a difficult spot for a No. 26-ranked Raiders pass defense that has played eight games without an interception.
“I mean I think they’ve done a good job working,” head coach Jack Del Rio said after Friday’s practice at IMG Academy. “A lot of it is communication, working with each other and understanding the leveraging that you need to take on different guys and playing. I think the guys are doing a solid job of getting through that. We’d love to have arguably our two top guys there that we don’t have right now.”
Del Rio’s referring to Amerson and Conley. Amerson’s the No. 1 cornerback. Conley’s has the most talent.
Smith has fallen off this year, giving too many explosive plays. McDonald is new to the rotation, but generally in good position to flash ball skills.
Carrie has been the rock. He entered the spring as the team’s fourth cornerback, leap-frogged Smith in training camp and is now the most reliable cover man. He has given up a 69.6 completion percentage when targeted, but receivers are averaging just 9.3 yards per reception and precious few yards after the catch.
“I like the pressure, of having so many rely on you,” Carrie said. “I pride myself on being dependable, even in big moments. That’s why you play, to be there for your team. I know I have to be consistent, and I have to be physical and tough. I have to be a guy you can count on. That, as much as anything else, drives me every day.”
The Raiders secondary remains in a tough spot, light years from what they’d hoped after signing Amerson and Smith to big-money deals last offseason and drafting Conley and Melifonwu a few months back.
Depth has been key to sustaining decent play in the back, but Carrie, McDonald and Smith must be better. Solid coverage isn’t good enough on a 3-5 team that must go on a big run to save the season. They have to make big plays, create turnovers and spark the team with players previously down on the depth chart. Carr believes healthy corners are up to the task.
“We’re a close group, and we do everything possible to prep for game,” Carrie said. “We work hard and we’ve done a good job staying together despite so many injuries at the position. I think all of our DBs can cover well and make plays. We’re confident in whoever we put out there on the field.”