The Raiders have reinforcements coming at cornerback.
Nevin Lawson formally was reactivated Monday after serving a four-game PED suspension and a week practicing under a roster exemption. Rookie Isaiah Johnson is set to return off injured reserve, and should start practicing after the bye week off.
That’s good news for the position group, which already was functioning well with Gareon Conley, Lamarcus Joyner and Daryl Worley.
Cornerback is by far the team’s deepest spot on defense, which has allowed the Raiders to get creative how they use some of their most versatile pieces.
They have moved Joyner around some over the past two weeks, keeping him on the field even in the base package. They’re going to do the same with Worley, using his size and physicality to their advantage knowing there are capable players able to step into a spot he vacates while roving around the defensive backfield.
Lawson’s return should give the Raiders freedom to let Worley help several areas.
“Hopefully he can do that,” Gruden said. “We have a big picture [plan] for Worley. We think Worley is going to be a hybrid player for us. A guy that can play at safety, at nickel, at left corner or right. As we go down the stretch here I think Worley’s role is going to expand.”
Worley stands 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, with the strength, physicality and speed to match up with most any receiver or tight end. The Raiders need help against bigger tight ends especially, and Worley could be a weapon there or in places where shorter defensive backs Joyner and Karl Joseph have a tough time matching up.
The Raiders tried this a bit in a Week 2 loss to Kansas City, where Worley lined up in several locations. They didn’t really have the support required to make it all work well. They do now, with the secondary’s ranks healthy and getting stronger.
Worley’s exact role may vary based upon opposing matchups, and it will be interesting to see how he is deployed on a week-to-week basis.
The Raiders used their defensive backs well in Sunday's 24-21 victory over Chicago, playing just two linebackers the entire game. They used Joyner and Joseph in different spots to sustain quality run defense, making do without the standard compliment of linebackers in a front seven.
Getting more experienced defensive backs involved will help.
Lawson has tons of experience and should be able to step in and contribute. Johnson will be a real asset on special teams -- he was an excellent gunner in college -- and has the ideal size to play outside cornerback here. More development is required for someone new to the position -- he mostly has played receiver -- who missed most of the preseason with a concussion and a facial injury that ultimately got him placed on injured reserve.
Even if he starts practice Monday, it might take a few weeks to get him game ready.
“We’re hoping to get Isaiah Johnson, our fourth-round pick, back here on the practice field Monday so we can see where he is,” Gruden said. “We’d like to get him on the grass. He’s another big press guy that we like.
"We’re excited about getting our corners back at full strength. We’ll see how it goes.”