If words of praise and confidence built in training camp can translate to regular-season performance, then the young cornerback corps of the Oakland Raiders should be dandy in 2015.
Because at this point, after just a few days of the team’s annual summer camp in Napa, new Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. already is showering praise on a trio of cornerbacks that is young, largely untested and perceived – outside the organization, at least – as a weak point.
Is Norton the one who’s right? Or is the perception? Nobody will know until after the Raiders play a few games in September.
But Norton, formerly an assistant coach with the defensive-dominant Seattle Seahawks, says he sees a lot to like in the trio of TJ Carrie, DJ Hayden and Keith McGill. In fact, Norton already is billing the threesome as comparable to the dynamic cornerback group in Seattle, led by Richard Sherman, that blossomed in recent years.
It sounds like coaching hyperbole, but Norton has been enthusiastic about his group’s potential.
“It didn’t start out that way,” Norton told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vic Tafur this week, of the corners in Seattle. “We had to build.”
And now, in Oakland, a new building project has begun with Carrie – who came on strong last season as a rookie – Hayden and McGill (a 6-foot-3, 214-pound physical corner from Utah who had limited playing time in 2014 (mostly on special teams).
“The young corners that I’ve been with in the past, they started out with no one knowing who they were, then all of the sudden, they’re the stars of the league,” Norton told Tafur. “And it’s a matter of coaching, developing, time, energy, effort and the whole group. A village raising everybody.”
Norton says he loves the way the group has played so far in camp, and is urging them to be more physical with receivers and to play more “bump and run” style.
As of now, Carrie and McGill are getting more first-team reps than Hayden.
McGill, certainly, is the wild card in the trio, a fourth-round pick from 2014 who has the size and athletic ability to be a difference-maker.
Before the 2014 draft, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock compared McGill to Seattle’s taller more physical corners, Brandon Browner (6-foot-4, and now in New Orleans) and Sherman (6-foot-3).
This past offseason, it was presumed the Raiders would pursue a veteran free agent to fill at least one cornerback spot. Instead, the Raiders decided to go all in on their young trio.
“The best option was to, in our opinion, was to develop,” head coach Jack Del Rio told SB Nation this week. “That’s what we’re doing. They are young. And we need them to grow up. So we need them to come along and develop and I like the way we’re working at it. But, we have a lot of work to do.”