Reggie Nelson is talking, and Karl Joseph is listening.
The Raiders’ back-end tandem got their work in for the first time together as training camp opened Friday morning, and Joseph, the rookie safety drafted out of West Virginia says hearing Nelson on the field is only helping to build confidence:
“It helps a lot because he’s been in the league for a long time playing at a high level. So just watching him and playing with him and knowing he’s right next to me is giving me a lot more confidence. It eliminates a lot of mistakes on my part as well, just because he knows what he’s doing. Watching him helps a lot.”
Joseph was taken with the first pick Oakland had this spring, and Nelson signed a deal late in free agency, despite posting a career high eight interceptions with the Bengals last year. The two, Oakland hopes, will anchor the back end of the defense and create even more problems that Khalil Mack will.
A rookie’s first season can be tough. There’s a lot going on, new terminology and a whole lot of new concepts. Joseph says his head isn’t spinning, though, and that head coach Jack Del Rio had a simple message for him:
“Just doing my job, that’s it. Coach Jack said make a big emphasis on that. That’s one of the things he would tell me, to just not try to do too much, to just come in and listen to the veterans. Those guys have been there so they know what they are doing, so just come in and do my job, that’s it.”
Joseph’s highlight reel out of college shows one-third ball hawk, one-third hitter, and another third that’s not very human — as athletic as they come and able to make plays like he’s seven-feet tall, even though he’s only 5-foot-10.
Paired with Nelson, and with Nate Allen and Keith McGill projecting as the primary backups, the Raiders appear to have a safety group that is as deep as they come, and with talent galore. That’s a big deal considering that Oakland shuffled around their secondary quite a bit as the injury bug bit hard and often, leaving players like T.J. Carrie to man a position he’d never played.
The Raiders finished with the 26th ranked passing defense, and had it been just a little better, it’s not tough to imagine a playoff berth materializing.
Now, that doesn’t seem improbable. Not in the least. But this is where that starts, in reality, and where the chemistry will really be built. Del Rio said:
“They worked hard during the time that they weren’t able to be on the field. They were working very hard behind the scenes in meetings, walk-through and things. Yeah, I feel really good about the start, and went off without much of an issue at all. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do for us as a football team, them included. But, great to have them out here and great for us to have that kind of beginning.”
The Raiders hosted approximately 100 former players for the official opening day of camp, for what the team calls “Alumni Weekend.”
In attendance as well were select Gold Star Families from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, as well as veterans with Team Red White & Blue, wounded veterans with Sentinels of Freedom and military support personnel from the United Service Organization.
On the practice field, D.J. Hayden grabbed an interception on a underthrown ball from Connor Cook, and took it to the house. Hayden figures to play some nickel corner this season, but could be dealt for a zone-needy team searching for a veteran, should the opportunity present itself.
It wasn’t a hot day, at least by Napa standards in the dog days of summer, but the team was clearly diligent in efforts to hydrate players and keep them cool during rest periods. Del Rio and his staff have seemed incrementally more concerned with player’s health than the previous coaching staff of Dennis Allen.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.