NAPA – Johnathan Abram was assigned to room with Trayvon Mullen during Raiders training camp, a pairing that makes perfect sense.
Both guys are highly touted rookies, drafted 13 picks apart, who play in the same secondary. They’ve known each since the collegiate ranks and were friends before joining the Silver and Black.
There’s plenty these two could discuss, while adjusting to NFL life.
Abram wanted a new roommate just the same. Mullen’s not a slob. He doesn’t snore or leave clothes on the floor.
The request wasn’t a slight against the Clemson alum. Abram wanted to live with the man he’ll work closest with all season, playing positions where chemistry is key. Karl Joseph wanted the same, so the Raiders made a switch and put the presumptive starting safeties together.
As an aside, Mullen got a new roommate he couldn’t immediately name. “One of the offensive linemen. I can’t remember his name -- from Louisville.” [Hint: It’s Lukayus McNeil]
Abram wanted to see Joseph’s crazy work ethic up close, to learn from someone who’s been through it all before. This isn’t a mentor-protégé thing. These two wanted to maximize every opportunity to grow together.
“We talk about a lot of things afterwards,” Abram said. “We watch a lot of film at night together just making sure we are on the same page. There are certain things that we can pass off and exchange because we talk about it late at night. We are just trying to build that bond, so where I don’t even have to say something, he knows exactly what I’m thinking.”
Having Abram and Joseph play every down together is a perfect-world scenario, one that allows Lamarcus Joyner to concentrate on slot cornerback and gives Erik Harris a super sub role he has the smarts and capacity to fill.
Abram and Joseph have worked well together thus far, almost exclusively after Abram was promoted to the first unit late in OTAs. Finding a mind meld featuring unspoken communication is this training camp's ultimate goal.
“I think Karl and John are physical guys that are really working hard at the communication and their responsibilities,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “That’s hard to do. We are throwing a lot formationally and situationally.”
Paul Guenther’s defense can be complex, especially for a safety. The two positions are virtually interchangeable, with both players moving around the chessboard throughout a defensive series.
“I think there’s a reason why coach doesn’t really want to label us as a free or strong [safeties],” Joseph said. “We both can play either position. You know, you got to be very versatile to play in this defense. We got to be able to cover. You know, we got to play the run and play deep. So, we both are very interchangeable.”
Both guys can thump, playing aggressive in the box while occasionally rushing the passer. Neither guy has Joyner’s chops playing deep, but they can be serviceable in the back and make plays on the ball.
Scheme mastery is key to making plays. Abram is going above and beyond trying to get the playbook down, whether it’s hounding Gruden or veteran middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict for intel.
That’s a good tact for this scheme, which Joseph has some time to master. He started feeling comfortable late last year and played significantly better in a role focused on moving forward.
“Going from last season into the spring and just having the conversations with coaches knowing what I need to do, what I need to improve on and just being able to understand the scheme has been huge,” Joseph said. “You know, I think that’s the biggest thing, understanding the scheme and anticipating stuff before it happens. The communication level is way different for me than it was last year so I think I’m ready to make that step.”
Abram has drawn rave reviews from his peers. They’re heaping praise at a time when veterans keep rookies in check. He has the talent and drive to be a long-term solution at safety. He draws influence from several sources, including his new roommate.
“We’re building where we want to go,” Joseph said. “We’re rooming together so you know, we’re getting a chance to talk about ball. You know, so we just got to keep building that you know, every day, every practice. We got a couple weeks left until the preseason. We just got to keep getting better every day and keep coming together.”