ALAMEDA – The Raiders have some serious cornerback depth right now. They’re healthy at that spot and have activated Nevin Lawson after a four-game suspension and a week’s practice as a roster exemption.
The veteran’s primed and ready to contribute right now, if he’s worthy of an active roster spot over some others. Isaiah Johnson is set to come off injured reserved after next week’s game at Houston, further fortifying the deepest defensive position group.
Those numbers will also allow Daryl Worley to move around the defensive backfield in what Jon Gruden called a hybrid role.
Coaches aren’t spelling out exactly what that will look like, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Worley’s comfortable playing several different spots in the defensive backfield, from cornerback to safety to down low in the box.
“Daryl is a smart guy, he can be like having an extra corner cover guy on the field,” Guenther said. “He understands the run fits, the blitzes, the leverages in coverage, whether it’s inside or outside. So, to have a guy with that knowledge and that ability and the physicalness to play inside versus the run on some early down and distances, that’s something that we utilize him for, and he can do it. That’s kind of what we are talking about there, it’s having an extra corner on the field.”
That means Lawson or rookie Trayvon Mullen would slide into Worley’s regular cornerback spot opposite Gareon Conley to fill a gap. That allows the Raiders to use more of their secondary strength while countering some deficiencies at linebacker with Vontaze Burfict suspended the rest of the year. They got creative to keep Lamarcus Joyner on the field when he was largely schemed out of Week 3’s loss to Minnesota, and are coming up with creative ways to enhance coverage against tight ends and in bigger packages.
“You have to give credit to our coaches credit,” Lawson said. “They are doing a great job of getting people involved. We have some talent across the board in the secondary, and we have depth there as well. The defensive backs have to rise to the occasion, no matter who is out there or where guys are playing. We look forward to the challenge of playing well."
While we don’t know who will be among the 46 active players on Sunday at Green Bay, Lawson is excited for a return after missing the season’s start due to a PED violation. The anticipation’s certainly high for the veteran hoping to make his season debut.
“I’m more than excited to be out there,” Lawson said. “I got really tired of watching. This is a good team and we’re getting better every day. I just want to contribute to the group and help us win.”
The Raiders know they can’t survive forever playing just two linebackers on defense, even with Tahir Whitehead and Nicholas Morrow operating well as a pairing.
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“Well you got to have linebackers,” Gruden said. “Anytime someone comes out and wants to play old-fashioned, big boy football you got to have linebackers. Losing Burfict is big, I’m still not happy about it. I’m just not happy about it. … I’m not happy about that but it is what it is, and we’ll get Dakota Allen and whoever the next man up is, we’ll get him ready to go.”
Allen and Justin Phillips are linebackers in reserve, though the Raiders won’t just put them out there because it says “LB” on their football card. Secondary depth will play a role in the defensive scheme, which is forced to adjust to some setbacks in the front seven.