Reggie Nelson leading by example in OTA’s

Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Reggie Nelson (27) reacts before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Reggie Nelson (27) reacts before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

Oakland Raiders veteran safety Reggie Nelson may be in the twilight of his career, but he still provides value to the team with his veteran leadership.

The Oakland Raiders have drafted three safeties in the past two offseasons, and the soon to be 34-year old Reggie Nelson has taken notice. As the elder statesman of a group, Nelson has taken the role of mentor, providing veteran leadership to a young secondary that includes Karl Joseph, Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu.

Going back to 2016, one of the biggest disappointments from the season was the poor play of the secondary. After a complete overhaul in the prior offseason with the additions of Sean Smith and Nelson, along with the extension of David Amerson and the draft selection of Karl Joseph, expectations were high. But the secondary struggled mightily, giving up explosive plays and long touchdowns far too often. By season’s end, the Raiders were ranked 24th in passing defense.

So once again, addressing the secondary was a priority for Reggie McKenzie. With the team’s first round pick, they selected Gareon Conley. And then with their second round pick, they went with Obi Melifonwu. The Raiders doubled up at the safety position in the seventh round, adding Shalom Luani.

Naturally, the assumption is that Nelson, who turns 34 in September, has a job that is on the line, and that he would feel threatened by this. But that hasn’t been the case, as Nelson has embraced his role as the leader of the secondary.

With the final week of OTA’s wrapping up on Friday, Nelson has receive high praise for the leadership he has provided to the young safeties on the roster. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was asked about Nelson and this is what he had to say:

"“Nelson is a ball hawk, he’s always around the ball.  He’s a veteran and he knows how to play this game and he’s been playing for a long time.  Our team is so young, it’s important for a guy like that 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 has been playing for a long time for a reason. Certainly his experience is very important to us.”"

New assistant head coach, John Pagano also met with the media Tuesday and was asked about the benefits of having a veteran presence like Reggie Nelson to lead a young group.

"“It’s been outstanding.  I’ve nothing but just gravitated to a guy like that to be able to talk football with him, pick his brain of how he sees things, how he understands the game of football.”“Excellent pro, he’s a pro.  Comes to work everyday. Questions, writes everything down, listens.  That’s what it’s all about.  He is a great example for our younger players to be able to watch a guy like that and be able to see how it’s suppose to be done.”"

Nelson is aware that he’s been playing at a pro bowl level the past two seasons but also recognizes that there are always areas of improvement.

"I’ve got homework every night.  This is a young man’s game and they keep drafting safeties, so you gotta compete man.  I study every night no matter what it is.  It’s always something 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 here. There’s always something you can get better at and work at."

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The new additions to the secondary should provide competition to the group and force everyone to elevate their play. The defensive side of the ball has the talent in place to be a quality unit. If the 2017 Oakland Raiders are planning to make a deep playoff run they will need the defense to be more reliable on the back end.