Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. believes this year’s unit is more talented than last year’s collection. That’s especially true in the secondary, where the Raiders spent significant capital this offseason.
Sean Smith got $38 million to anchor one cornerback spot. Reggie Nelson got $8.5 million to play free safety. Strong safety Karl Joseph was acquired with the No. 14 overall pick and should start in a secondary with three new pieces over a year ago.
David Amerson is lone returner, and he was a waiver claim after getting cut by Washington.
“We see a real good backfield,” Norton said. “We’re improving. We’re coaching better. They’re playing better. We want to make sure we add our rush, combined with our coverage. Those two are connected and they work together. They’re doing a fantastic job of understanding what we have.
“We have guys that can cover and we have guys that can rush. That should work out to be pretty good for us.”
The secondary should be better than a collection of last year’s parts. Right now, however, that’s an academic pursuit. The Raiders starting secondary has been missing during OTAs.
Nelson hasn’t practiced in an OTA open to the press due to injury, and it’s uncertain whether he’ll be active during this week’s mandatory minicamp.
We know Joseph will be on the sideline, recovering from ACL surgery. He’s due back in training camp, and should earn a starting spot over veteran returner Nate Allen.
Norton is excited about Joseph’s ability, which has been lauded by many following his draft selection.
“You see in the film, the guy is explosive,” Norton said. “He loves ball. He’s around the football a lot. He’s a pack of dynamite. He’s a really good football player. The more good football players you get on the team, the better you get. Anytime you have a first-round draft pick, you expect an impact player. We expect him to be that.”
Norton expects his backups will want to push for starting spots. That includes DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie, players with starting experience now fighting for expanded roles. Neiko Thorpe is also in the mix, and could be a player for the pivotal role in the slot.
Carrie has a proper skill set to play inside, though Hayden has taken significant snaps there during OTAs.
“Roles are good, but at the same time, it’s competition,” Norton said. “There’s no spot that’s already given. It’s a matter of competing. Coming out here every day and working really hard to show what you have. We’ve surrounded all the players with really good football players. They can look to the side, look around the room, they see every day guys showing up, playing and competing. It’s important that the group sees their growth, how they’re improving every day, and knowing the tools that we have.”