Cornerback TJ Carrie started outside opposite David Amerson on Saturday against Arizona, as he had all week in practice. Sean Smith spent that time working with the second unit outside and as a dime hybrid linebacker, a demotion for someone with 115 career starts.
That was practice. The Raiders quickly threw Smith outside with the starting unit, on the second snap in fact. The 30-year old didn’t make a good impression.
Smith interfered with Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson, and cost his team eight yards and a first down. His game went mostly downhill from there.
He got beat deep and was charged for illegal contact in the second quarter.
Smith played inside and out in 29 defensive snaps with the first and second string, and struggled in coverage. He allowed three receptions for 47 yards and a 91.3 passer rating on five targets, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus. He had the aforementioned penalties and was beat on a double move, but a sure touchdown was avoided by an overthrow.
Head coach Jack Del Rio didn’t comment specifically on Smith beyond his illegal contact penalty, but said the secondary has significant work ahead.
“There are some things I know we can clean up on the back end,” Del Rio said. “We are working on that. The communication is better. I think there is more technique being played, but this is the first time under the lights in game conditions against an offense that was maybe doing a couple new things, which was perfect for us. It will be a great learning experience for all our guys in the back end, including Sean.”
Amerson seems set to start at one cornerback spot. Carrie and Smith will continue competing for a starting spot, though first-rounder Gareon Conley will enter the fray when healthy.
The Raiders have used Smith in the box in a dime package that could be used more to cover tight ends better than recent seasons. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu was also slotted for that responsibility, though he has been out roughly a week with injury.
The Raiders have three more practices at the Napa Valley Marriott before breaking camp on Thursday. A position battle unexpected at the start of camp has cranked up and should be interesting to watch as the regular season encroaches.