Derrick Ansley is a grinder, someone who appreciates working with similar personality types. That’s why the Raiders secondary coach is looking forward to molding a group of young defensive backs expected to play major roles next season.
Cornerback Gareon Conley and strong safety Karl Joseph seem set to start next season. Daryl Worley should formally join that crew at outside corner opposite Conley this spring, when he’s expected to re-sign with the Raiders as a restricted free agent.
Nick Nelson’s also in the mix there. So is free safety Erik Harris – he’s technically an exclusive rights free agent set to return -- who finished the season strong often as the last line of defense.
The common thread: All of those guys have three years NFL experience or less.
That’s a solid group to build on in the back.
“All those guys are young, but the most important thing is they have an ear and an eye to get better,” Ansley told NBC Sports Bay Area at the end of the Senior Bowl practice week. "If you have guys who lock in and pay attention to details, that helps them grow.
"Our young defensive backs have ability. The only thing they’re lacking is experience. Some have more that others, but I believe those guys are headed in the right direction.”
It wasn’t clear Joseph was doing that early on. The 2016 first-round pick was buried on the depth chart, as low as the fourth safety through three weeks.
A hamstring injury at Miami ruined his season’s first half, but the West Virginia came on strong once he got healthy and grew within a hybrid role that often had him attacking in the box. Joseph was both aggressive and effective, becoming a defensive tone setter the secondary sorely lacked.
Ansley knows why that happened.
“Football means a lot to Karl,” Ansley said. “He puts a lot of time into his craft and, whether it’s in the meeting room, film room or practice field, he’s always trying to find the next thing needs to get better. If football really matters you work and work and work, things start to turn around. We saw what towards the end of the season with Karl.”
The Raiders must add to this secondary with cornerback depth and a presumptive starter at free safety. That could come in the draft.
Alabama’s Deionte Thompson is often considered the NFL draft’s best safety, though Delaware’s Nasir Adderley impressed many, including the Raiders, with college tape and a solid Senior Bowl week. Maryland’s Darnell Savage also showed well, with the versatility many teams crave.
Someone coached by the Raiders during Senior Bowl week, including the last two prospects mentioned above, could help complete a secondary that seems to be on the rise if Ansley can continue to develop young talent.