Reggie Nelson

Reggie Nelson 'could give a rat’s whatever' about criticism of Raiders' defense

Reggie Nelson 'could give a rat’s whatever' about criticism of Raiders' defense

ALAMEDA – The Raiders defense won’t be mistaken for the 1985 Bears. That’s okay. They don’t have to be to win games. Not with a Derek Carr-driven attack scoring in bunches.

Good, not great. Serviceable. That’s the need.

That is not Reggie Nelson’s expectation. The veteran free safety isn’t a C student. He certainly won’t aim for the middle.

He has no interest in clearing a bar set by anyone on the outside.

“I could care less about what people think,” Nelson said Tuesday. “Not to be so blunt, but I could give a rat’s whatever about all that. As long as we’re good in this locker room, that’s the only thing that we need to worry about. If the guy next to you is working hard, that’s important while we’re trying to piece this defense together.”

The defense wasn’t good in the preseason. It looked far better in a 26-16 victory over Tennessee. Improvement came as the game went on, especially on third down and in the red zone.

Communication was far better. For the most part, the Raiders were on the same page and played disciplined, fundamental football.

“I thought they played well,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We were better on third down. We were good in the red zone. They have a physical offensive line and some good back and we didn’t want to let them get loose. It was a good effort. They do a lot of different motions and shifts and things you have to be ready for. It was good to see that preparation come through.”

The performance wasn’t perfect, but it left many wondering if the Raiders defense might just be better than expected. Nelson doesn’t care about that, either.

“You have to ignore the noise,” Nelson said. “If you worry about what others are saying, it can throw your game off. That’s when you start thinking about things other than doing your job.”

Nelson’s a captain, and wants his charges singularly focused on improvement and maximizing the defense’s potential.

“It’s going good,” Nelson said. “There’s still a lot of work to do around here. They young guys know that. The older guys definitely do. We just have to put our heads down and grind.”

Nelson competing with young Raiders safeties: 'Got homework every night'

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AP

Nelson competing with young Raiders safeties: 'Got homework every night'

ALAMEDA – Reggie Nelson has been around the block more than anyone on the Raiders defense. His 11th trip around the NFL calendar has begun, following Pro Bowl selections in his last two.

Nelson has a tide chart for the ebbs and flows of an offseason that notes exactly what’s required and when to excel when games actually count.

That doesn’t mean this 33-year old is on autopilot. Nelson is searching for better from his physical traits and mental approach to the game.

“Man, I’ve got homework every night,” Nelson said after Tuesday’s OTA session, sporting his trademark 1000-watt smile. “It’s a young man’s game. They keep drafting safeties, so you have to compete, man. I study every night no matter what it is. There’s always something that I can get better at and that’s what I keep trying to tell the young guys, ‘Don’t think you made it because you’re here. There’s always something that you can get better at and work at.’”

Nelson is the defense’s oldest brother and the secondary’s sage. He welcomes a role as mentor to younger safeties growing as professionals. General manager Reggie McKenzie has invested heavily in the position, using a 2016 first-round pick on Karl Joseph and this year’s second-rounder on Obi Melifonwu. He wants the defensive backs to play better than a year ago, without losing focus on his desire to continue his career renaissance.

Nelson has 13 interceptions and a pair of Pro Bowl selections the past two seasons, proving to be a ballhawk in the back.

“He’s always around the ball,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “He’s a veteran. He knows how to play this game, he’s been playing for a long time. Our team is so young, it’s important for a guy like that to continue to set an example for a lot of the younger players. He has a lot of respect in the room, a lot of respect on the field and he’s been playing for a long time for a reason. He’s a guy whose experience is very important to us.”

A career’s experience is vital a free safety, as is his last season with the Raiders. Nelson’s always around the ball, but increasing comfort with a new system was clear later in the year and allowed him to provide better help to his cornerbacks and linebackers. Getting to know how Sean Smith and David Amerson react to receiver routes helps him be in the right place at the right time.

“It’s just me personally just knowing how that player plays,” Nelson said. “D.A. and Sean are going to play something different. They might play a different route. D.A. might play a route one way and Sean might play a different way. So it’s just knowing how they’re going to react to that route and on that defensive call or what not. So, it’s just us as a group; (Joseph), Obi, Conley, whoever’s out there, just us communicating as a group and coach has been doing a good job of mixing everybody in there and seeing what everybody can do.”

Improved defensive communication is a point of emphasis this offseason, as the Raiders try to avoid big plays that plagued them in 2016. Nelson’s a major part of that effort, both in getting teammates in playmaking position and disguising plays before the snap.

“He’s somebody that understands the game,” said assistant head coach – defense John Pagano, who has been working with defensive backs during the offseason program. “It’s just good to be around a guy like that. Excellent pro. He’s a pro. Comes to work every day with questions. Writes everything down, listens. That’s what it’s all about. He’s a great example for our younger players to be able to watch a guy like that and be able to see how it’s supposed to be done.”

The Raiders have a crop of young safeties and cornerbacks learning from and pushing established veterans, a dynamic Nelson believes will help the unit play better.

“It’s going to do a lot for the group,” Nelson said. “Everybody’s stepping up their game and it is what it is. You’re out here to compete and keep a job. Like I said, the league keeps getting younger and younger each year and you should be concerned. You have to compete if you want to play. Nothing is going to be handed to you.”

Carr, Mack among seven Raiders selected to Pro Bowl

Carr, Mack among seven Raiders selected to Pro Bowl

ALAMEDA – The Raiders hope none of their players participate in the Pro Bowl. That would mean they’re competing for an NFL championship the following week.

Should they fall short, the Silver and Black will be well represented in the NFL’s annual All-Star game.

The Raiders had seven players elected to the Pro Bowl, the NFL announced on Tuesday evening, the team’s highest total since 1991.

The list is long and well deserved, including three-fifths of the offensive line, quarterback Derek Carr and edge rusher Khalil Mack.

Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Rodney Hudson made it from the AFC’s best offensive line. Receiver Amari Cooper and safety Reggie Nelson were also elected.

The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 29, 2017 in Orlando – a week before the Super Bowl -- and culminate a week of festivities honoring the league’s top players. After choosing sides with a school-yard pick ‘em, the AFC and NFC will square off in a game that is typically light on defense.

The Raiders were represented by six players in last year’s game, but Khalil Mack, Charles Woodson and Marcel Reece were the trio elected on the first ballot. Carr, Cooper and running back Latavius Murray were added as alternates.

These types of rewards typically go to good teams, and the Raiders have been one of the best during an 11-3 record with two games remaining.

Their offensive line and skill players have garnered great respect. Carr is an MVP contender and Mack is among the favorites for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

This is Penn’s second Pro Bowl nod and Osemele’s first. Osemele and Penn have been virtually impenetrable on the left side. Osemele's reputation as an intimidator has grown this season, his first as a Raider, and he is widely considered among the NFL’s best offensive guards. Hudson has been a quality center all season. 

Cooper has exceeded 1,000 yards already and Nelson has four interceptions this year.