ALAMEDA – The Raiders secondary has been beat up all year. Gareon Conley’s been a non-factor. Obi Melifonwu’s been on injured reserve since September. Antonio Hamilton’s done for the year.
David Amerson’s dealt with several injuries, including a concussion and a shoulder. Now a foot sprain will prevent him from playing the Bills. Amerson will miss his second start this season after being ruled out Friday on the official Raiders injury report.
Karl Joseph’s in line to miss his first. He’s considered doubtful with a groin injury that sidelined him two of three practices this week.
Playing Buffalo down to key members of the secondary is troubling to be sure. The team will look down the depth chart for help.
Expect Sean Smith and Shalom Luani to step into bigger roles this week, though Keith McGill could also see time at Joseph’s strong safety spot and cornerback Dexter McDonald’s snap count could skyrocket.
Smith lost his starting job in training camp, and his regular-season’s snap counts have been up and down. His only start came against Baltimore, when he was torched three times on crucial plays. He filled in well for Amerson in Denver and again last week against Kansas City.
“It’s never easy for a guy,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s handling it professional and being prepared and being ready to help his team when he’s called on. We’re going to play the best combination of people that we think can help us win. I’d love for him to get it going and finish this year strong. Where he’s had some struggles, we felt the need to play some other guys.”
McDonald has been a defensive fixture the last few weeks as a third corner active in sub packages. He has fared well, and could start opposite TJ Carrie with Smith as the third corner.
Luani has primarily been a special teams player, but impressed on defense during the preseason. He’s known as a ball hawk and worked more at free safety this summer, but has experience in the box. According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Luani played 97 percent of his snaps within eight yards of the line last year at Washington State, and had 17 run stops.
Del Rio didn’t name Luani the starter should Joseph miss time, but certainly leaned in that direction.
“He’s got great instincts and is a natural play maker,” Del Rio said. “He’s been (champing) at the bit for an opportunity if Karl doesn’t end up being able to go, then he’s excited to get his turn.
“…Shalom, obviously, is a young man that we’re excited about. He’s looking forward to getting a little more action than he’s had.”
McGill has experience at strong safety and size to man the position, but hasn't played much defense since the first two games of last season.
Injuries weaken a Raiders area of weakness, leaving trouble spots on the back end. That puts greater emphasis on the front seven to generate a pass rush and stop the run to set up favorable conditions for the secondary.
The Bills don’t have much speed at receiver and tight end Charles Clay’s out with a knee injury, making the job a smidge easier. The Raiders reserves must step up in larger roles to win and important game heading into the halfway point.