Veterans normally temper rookie praise in training camp, with comments varying around these central themes: Great talent, but there’s a lot to learn. Hard work’s the key to success. Takes some time to adjust to the NFL game.
All that’s designed to keep egos from getting too big too fast.
That wasn’t part of the Johnathan Abram experience.
“I think he’s going to be great,” then Raiders linebacker Brandon Marshall said back on July 29. “I think he’s going to be a baller, man. He’s a ballhawk, has a nose for the ball. I know he can hit. He’s fast, smart. He’s picking defenses up extremely fast and he’s playing at a high level right now in camp, so I look forward to big things from John.”
The entire team did, and said so explicitly. That’s why the first-round draft pick was plugged into the starting lineup during training camp and never removed. Abram proved to be a hard-working, trash-talking, in-your-face tone-setter every moment of every day, so tenacious head coach Jon Gruden joked he had to change hotel rooms because Abram was banging on his door too much.
Raiders players and coaches loved all of it, even his mispronunciations on “Hard Knocks.” Abram was a key cog in an improved defense, someone who get better when smart eventually overpowered his penchant for knockout blows.
An instant profound impact was expected from the No. 27 overall selection. That’s why Gruden gave him the vaunted Raiders No. 24 jersey, worn with grace by legendary defensive backs Charles Woodson and Willie Brown.
We won’t get to see that development, not any time soon. Abram will have surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, an injury he played through for most of Monday night. He got hurt early in the game and showed no ill effects during or after the victory, when he was hamming it up with the press while rocking a cowboy hat.
His prognosis came as a surprise on Tuesday night when Bleacher Report broke news that Abram’s season was over. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden confirmed it on Wednesday afternoon, that he'll have surgery Thursday and be placed on injured reserve.
The Raiders have to process Abram's loss quickly with the Kansas City Chiefs coming up on Sunday afternoon. Curtis Riley is the next guy up, with the experience required to step right in and function well. Erik Harris is available, and can also perform well if called upon.
Abram’s energy, however, is tough to replace. So is a chemistry built with Karl Joseph during training camp -- he tossed Trayvon Mullen out to bring in Joseph as his roommate -- over countless practice snaps and hours pouring over film.
The Raiders will survive and could still thrive without Abram, but it will be harder. It’s a significant loss to be sure and a setback in his long-term development.
Abram made some big plays and missed some others trying to levy big hits, something Gruden said Tuesday, before Abram’s injury news, that his young safety had to play a bit smarter.
“I think he probably got a little bit too reckless at times,” Gruden said. “He made some great plays, some impact plays and certainly I think some tackles he’s got to make for us, he missed, but his debut was pretty good.”
It’s unfortunate for the Raiders and for Abram that his season was cut so short. Oakland fans will miss out on his entertaining, largely effective brand of football, which raised secondary play and brought and edge to the defensive backfield.
Abram is obviously disappointed in this development, but his Instagram response to it was true to form.
“If I’m going out,” Abram wrote, “I’m going out with a bang.”