How are the Raiders managing defensive expectations?

Are the players, or their coaches, feeling any sense of pressure?
Las Vegas Raiders OTA Offseason Workout
Las Vegas Raiders OTA Offseason Workout / Ethan Miller/GettyImages
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Koonce’s Comments

Malcolm Koonce is perhaps the most underrated player on our defense. Sure, he plays second fiddle to Maxx Crosby, but he is a great pass rusher in his own right, recording 8.0 sacks in the final nine games last season. Koonce said in a recent interview that he watches Crosby at practice and does so to improve his own game.

According to Koonce, Crosby has given him an unbelievable amount of advice, but the one thing that sticks with him is his emulating Crosby’s motor, because “if you have a high motor and keep on going, then sometimes you just make plays purely off of that”. Now this comes as no surprise because Maxx is the team’s vocal, emotional, and physical leader both on and off the field. But it should make Raider fans excited that the rest of the team is embodying Maxx’s mantra. 

In the same interview, Koonce was asked about how the defense is dealing with their new-found expectations. He responded that it makes the team more focused, that “we understand how talented we are, so it’s just kind of understanding just taking it one step at a time”. As they say, Rome was not built in a day, and the team has had the entire offseason to build this defense into what they want it to be. Koonce added that the group is trying to not get “too ahead of ourselves and trying to win the whole season tomorrow”. Essentially, this group is taking a day-by-day approach and stacking days instead of sprinting through the offseason.

Koonce noted that the key to the team’s success was not doing anything differently, but that at the end of last year, it was “more of us just being ourselves. Just playing with our personality and just going out there happy to play”. If there’s one thing I know about Coach Pierce, it’s that he will ensure the players are unapologetically themselves. It was night and day between the first and second half of the season last year in terms of the culture and camaraderie the team had, and that has to do with AP’s presence.

Although expectations are high and people are starting to notice how special this group is, it seems that neither the coaches nor players are feeling any added pressure. The coaches seem confident in their groups and the players believe in their coaches and each other. When all that is asked of you is to be yourself and compete as hard as you can at the concepts the coaches teach you, it simplifies the game and allows players to be the best version of themselves. That formula is perfect for living up to and exceeding the expectations this unit has.