Training camp in Henderson is an early morning affair. The Las Vegas Raiders are avoiding the extreme Sin City heat by getting to work before the morning sun can wash over the mountains. Despite the early workouts, the Raiders are far from lethargic.
Head coach Jon Gruden is known for his energy and drive. In this year’s training camp, a man is matching his infectious energy stride for stride. The new leader of the Raiders defense: Gus Bradley.
Improving the defense
If the Miami Dolphins debacle last season wasn’t proof enough, the Raiders have a lot of work to do on the defensive side of the ball in 2021. The team gave up the third-most points (478) and the eighth-most yards (6,225) in 2020.
An 8-8 record was all there was to show from an offense that lit up the scoreboard in a big way. While there is clean-up to do on that side of the ball, namely red-zone scoring, and Derek Carr’s fumbles, the defense has a higher hurdle to clear for a playoff run to materialize.
Trotting players like Arden Key and Nevin Lawson to start on your defense is not going to get the job done.
There is clearly work to do.
The Raiders have invested some high draft capital into players that have yet to perform at a high level. Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, and Damon Arnette need to stamp their presence in 2021.
Paul Guenther was fired mid-way through the season and Bradley is tasked with this defensive resurgence. Bradley certainly has the pedigree. With successful stints in Seattle and Jacksonville, he knows how to whip up a stifling defense.
Gruden has confidence in his new defensive coordinator
“Gus is a high-energy coach,” Gruden recently said of his defensive coordinator, “He’s upbeat, positive, philosophical, fun to be around, he makes you laugh — but he also pushes you.” Gruden’s statement via a recent presser certainly shows he’s confident in Bradley handling the defense.
This kind of energy, if paired with meticulous attention to detail, can lead to great results. The message for the defense has been clear. The defense will be fast, aggressive, and simple. Bradley is emphasizing the power of performing without over-analyzing. He will make your job simple, but you will need to execute it.
The players are buying in.
Rave reviews from the Raiders
The hallmark of a great coach is the response he garners from the team he commands. The buy-in is evident one week into training camp.
“When he talks, all 11 eyes of that defense are on him. And that’s impressive. When you go to their defensive meeting room, you know who has the attention.” Derek Carr said.
“He just brought a different type of energy, different type of genuineness and love to the team,” Second-year cornerback Damon Arnette said. “Everybody is just getting closer. He brought back the brotherhood, for the love of your brother next to you.”
Defensive end Maxx Crosby also weighed in on his new coordinator, “Coach Bradley has brought in different energy. He’s a ball of energy at all times and that’s what you want as a coach.” This is tremendous praise from a player who plans to make big waves this season.
The Raiders brought in a lot of new faces in the offseason to help overhaul the defense. Bradley was the prized acquisition. Defensive backs coach Ron Milus and linebackers coach Richard Smith followed him over from Los Angeles to revamp the unit.
Ngakoue has been the show-stopper in camp. His burst, twitch, and pass-rush arsenal are evident through the tiny snippets we’ve seen from camp so far. The Raiders haven’t featured a defensive end like this since Khalil Mack. The duo of Ngakoue and Bradley had success in Jacksonville, can they repeat that in Las Vegas?
The Raiders will hope to replicate said success. Their playoffs hopes may well depend on it.
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*Top Photo: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal