First, the Las Vegas Raiders signed Karl Joseph. Then they used a second-round draft pick on Trevon Moehrig. Tyree Gillespie came in the fourth round.
Surely, bringing in three new safeties had to send a message to incumbent starter Johnathan Abram, right? Meh …
“It doesn’t,” insisted Abram, a first-round draft pick in 2019, after Wednesday’s OTA practice. “Only thing it does is bring us together. As soon as those guys got drafted, as soon as Karl got signed back, I reached out to everybody. I told them, ‘It’s time to go to work.’
“Each guy’s going to push each other. We’re all going to come out every single day and just be our best. Day in and day out. Being a pro … if everybody does that, it’s going to make the room entirely better.”
And it should improve Abram’s oft-boom or bust, heat-seeking-missile style.
For one thing, Abram is settling in at a new position as a box safety in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s heavy Cover-3 scheme.
“It’s interesting going from what we went to last year, playing a lot of split-safety, playing high,” Abram said. “So this is going to be more suitable to my talents and my strengths.”
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For another, Abram realizes he needs to slow down a tad and not always go for the kill shot, lest he take out a teammate — which has happened on occasion — or himself — yeah, that’s happened, too.
Like his rookie campaign, when he played all of one half of the 2019 season opener due to a self-inflicted shoulder injury.
“Last offseason was a struggle for me coming off the shoulder injury,” he said. “So this year I stayed around the facility a lot … I’m more than 100 percent, honestly. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been.
“This year, [the goal is] just being more consistent. Playing under control. Not really taking that many wild hits, getting myself knocked out of the game [and] hurting my own body … being consistent, being disciplined and constantly just doing my job. Filling my grade sheet with ‘plusses’ every day. Then every Sunday, I think my game will blossom.”
It’s only OTAs, and they are voluntary, but 83 of the 89 players on the Raiders’ current roster were practicing on Wednesday, with running back Josh Jacobs, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, tight end Derek Carrier, cornerback Isaiah Johnson and rookie linebacker/safety Divine Deablo not participating.
But there was Abram, taking on a leadership role with the defensive backs on a far side of the field.
And as draft classmate Clelin Ferrell noted, he has seen Abram focusing on “making it a special year” for both himself and the Raiders.
“All of us, we’re tired of losing,” Ferrell said. “Seeing his discipline, he’ll bring the guys along on the back end and the way he’s trying to push the fact that we’ve really got to learn this defense, so we can just go out there and play.”
Abram had two interceptions last season. He was also criticized for his inconsistent ball skills and for being badly out of position on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ 22-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Travis Kelce in the final minute of the Raiders’ loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 22.
Still, as former Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil stated last year, it is easier to get a player to slow down than to get him to speed up.
Now, Abram has a new position coach in 21-year coaching veteran Ron Milus.
And Abram also has a couple of veterans in the secondary to lean on in new cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., who has played for Bradley, and a one-time roommate in Joseph. Remember, Abram and Joseph started one match together and now Joseph is entering his sixth season.
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