Back in February, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie decided to let his veteran cornerbacks walk away.
He’d signed former 49ers Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers the year before, but after just one season made the decision to go another direction.
“We like what our young corners have done,” said McKenzie at the time. “I think veterans like that are here on the team to bring those young guys along. And I think they kind of did that. Carlos was a savvy veteran that they leaned on. Tarell did a good job with those guys. I think it’s their turn.”
He was referring to a trio of young corners in DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill.
Now, about four months after making that decision, McKenzie, new head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. remain confident the young defensive backs can take some big steps forward and provide some long-term continuity to a team that has shuffled and re-shuffled its cornerback corps over the past several seasons.
Hayden, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2013, and Carrie and McGill, taken in the 2014 draft, have impressed the team through offseason workouts, organized team activities (OTAs) and the three-day minicamp this week.
Hayden appears fit and healthy after a series of injuries, but he proved over the second half of last season that he may be rounding into the defender McKenzie envisioned when Hayden was a surprise Raiders pick. Carrie, too, played well as a rookie and McGill – who was injured last season and played sparingly – is getting a chance to play after watching and learning his first season. At 6-foot-3 with long arms, McGill -- a former Utah standout -- can match up well with the NFL's taller receivers.
“They’re young, fast, long,” Norton told reporters this week, when assessing the threesome. “Most of the young cornerbacks that I’ve been involved with in Seattle were young. You just have to coach them up. Whether they’re young or old, you just have to coach them up. You have to believe in your philosophy, believe in your technique and believe that you are a really good teacher.
“I believe that we have really good teachers here to coach the guys up and put them in positions to win.”
Carrie noted, too, that the young defensive backs have plenty of teachers to tap into, including veteran safety Charles Woodson and assistant coach Rod Woodson, a Hall of Fame cornerback.
“I almost have a book of notes that I just grasped from (those) two,” Carrie told the Associated Press. “Some previously from Charles last year, but now having both Woodsons this year. You have a sense that every question you could imagine asking, they have the answer to it.”
Hayden said the organization’s confidence in him, Carrie and McGill is a big boost and he says that confidence will be rewarded.
“I feel like we are all going to do the thing this year and help this secondary be one of the top ones in the National Football League.”