When the final 53 is announced and the season begins, the Oakland Raiders will launch the 2015 campaign with an incredibly young team. And with youth comes competition. Most notably, for playing time.
As the first full week of camp closes for the Raiders, many positional battles have taken shape. Among those battles, a trio of youngsters – T.J. Carrie, D.J. Hayden and Keith McGill – are fighting for two starting cornerback positions.
The 2014 Raiders team that finished 3-13 boasted a stout run defense, one that allowed four yards per carry (tied for eighth lowest in the NFL) and 119.4 yards per game (11th).
But to take the leap from a good defense to a great defense, they need to tighten up against the pass ,where they allowed the sixth-most touchdowns (29) a year ago.
First year defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. spent the past five seasons as the linebackers coach for the Seattle Seahawks. He likened this season’s group of defensive backs to that of the back-to-back NFC champions, adding:
“We’ve only been here a little over a week and the competition is there. The young corners that I’ve been with in the past, they started out with no one knowing who they were then all of a sudden they are the stars of the league.”
McGill is the elder statesman of the group at 26. 2013 first-round pick Hayden (25) holds the experience advantage having played in 18 games – 10 starts – in the NFL. In his 13 games (four starts) in 2014, Carrie amassed 44 tackles and one interception, three tackles fewer than Hayden.
Under the new coaching regime in Oakland, Carrie and McGill saw the majority of the first team reps in a pad-less practice Friday afternoon. Perhaps that is due to the size and strength advantage the two hold over the former first-rounder, size Norton saw blossom into the league’s best pass defense in Seattle:
“We like them to play hard … We like guys that play bump-and-run and make plays on the ball.”
So perhaps it is McGill’s 6-foot 3, 210-pound Richard Sherman-esque frame that has caught the attention of the DC.
Along with physicality, Norton preaches passion, energy and effort to his defensive corps. He believes that will improve upon the nearly 240 passing yards per game allowed by Oakland in 2014. And he has found those things in spades with All-Pro safety Charles Woodson, with whom he has entrusted the young corners.
Of the group, Woodson, who led the Raiders with four picks last season, said:
“These guys are working. (They’re) out here everyday and they compete. And the awesome thing about them is they’re soaking it all in and you can actually see it when you go in and watch film everyday, that these guys are learning and they’re getting better.”