The Oakland Raiders have had a rather poor secondary for quite some time now. And much like with the cornerback group, there is reason to be hopeful that this season will be different based on the talent level of the group. But unlike the cornerback group, we may not see the best players start for the safety group thanks to some favoritism of the coaching staff.
Safety Reggie Nelson has been a mainstay in the Raiders secondary for the past two seasons. And for the past two seasons, Iâ€™ve cringed as Iâ€™ve watched Nelson make mistake after mistake and give up big play after big play.
Many of us assumed that when Nelsonâ€™s contract ended this offseason, that weâ€™d seen the last of Nelson in Silver and Black. But defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, who also worked with Nelson while the two were with the Cincinnati Bengals, decided to bring the veteran back for one more go round.
When asked about Nelson, Guenther had this to say about the aging veteran and their experience together with the Bengals: “He was a first-round pick and we traded a seventh-rounder for him. We went into his body, pulled the wires out and re-wired him and he played at a high level for us. So, I am expecting nothing different here.”
Most signs point to a situation where Nelson is, at the very least. a guy who gets heavy playing time if not a role as one of the starting safeties. Of course, training camp hasnâ€™t even started yet and hopefully Guenther will be open minded enough to let there be a real competition where Nelson is at risk of not being a starter.
And if there is a legitimate competition, itâ€™s hard to see Nelson coming out on top. Last season, he looked like a guy whose time in the NFL had come to an end.Â That being said, his competition for a starting role isnâ€™t that great. His primary competition will come from Karl Joseph and Marcus Gilchrist.
I think Gilchrist will end up being a center piece of this secondary. I think he plays a lot of safety, but that he also plays a lot of nickel corner. That means while he is likely to be a starting safety, there will be times he is on the field as a corner, opening up more snaps for another safety.
Meanwhile, Joseph was supposed to be the future at safety, but after a terrible 2017 season, people are wondering if he has a future with the Raiders. This is a big opportunity to bounce back, show the new coaches that 2017 was a fluke and take a starting safety role with his training camp performance.
Behind those three are guys who will be fighting to make the roster, and hope that they can earn some playing time along the way. Obi Melifonwu, in particular, is on the hot seat as he missed most of the offseason continuing to nurse injuries. Heâ€™s a former second round pick in his second year and yet heâ€™s already in Jon Grudenâ€™s dog house. As the saying goes, your best ability is availability and so far, Melifonwu has had zero availability.
And then thereâ€™s Shalom Luani, a guy fans fell in love with after watching him play so well in the preseason. Heâ€™s got a nose for the ball and is a high effort, high energy guy. That being said, heâ€™s also still very raw and made some big mistakes when he saw the field as a rookie. But given his ability to play on special teams and the fact that he seems like the kind of guy Gruden would love, I feel like itâ€™s fairly likely he earns a roster spot as depth at safety, even if he doesnâ€™t play a ton.