Safety Reggie Nelson is now officially a Raider, with a two-year free-agent deal, and reunited with his former head coach in Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio.
But last year’s Pro Bowl safety for the Bengals didn’t always have a happy relationship with Del Rio when they were paired as Jaguars.
As Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group noted this week, Nelson was drafted by the Jaguars while Del Rio was head coach and earned a starting job as a rookie – but then was benched by the end of his third season.
That was in 2009 when, after one game against the Colts when he gave up two touchdown passes, Nelson’s role was reduced. At that time, Del Rio was looking for options at safety, and Nelson obviously had slipped from favor.
“We’ve played a lot of guys back there,” Del Rio told the Florida Times-Union. “We’ll continue to do what we think we can, where we can, with the guys we have. We’re not going to change right now.”
But changed they did, with Nelson losing his job. Eventually he was shipped to Cincinnati, where he grew into a very strong player and was considered one of the best safeties available in this free-agent class.
Obviously, in signing with the Raiders and reuniting with Del Rio, any bruises left from their time together in Jacksonville have healed. Nelson is expected to play the free safety role in Oakland in 2016, with Nate Allen at strong safety. The Raiders have now invested a lot in the veteran and believe he’ll continue to play the way he did in Cincinnati, not in Jacksonville.
Nelson learned from his mistakes and became a better player with the Bengals, proving true what Del Rio said about his failing play in 2009, that if he took it as a learning experience, he still had the potential for a strong career.
“We’re talking about football, professional football,” Del Rio told the Times-Union back then. “(Bouncing back), that’s what you do. You either do that or you can raise the white flag. The guys that stick around, the guys that play well in this league, they find a way.”
Nelson found his way and it led him back to Del Rio.