NAPA, CA. — Ken Norton Jr. is more prominently known for his vigor as a player suiting up both in Cowboys and 49ers uniforms. As a member of multiple Super Bowl teams, he, more than anyone knows what it takes, what type of mentality it takes to build a championship caliber defense. He is doing just that in Oakland. However, he is not building the defense in a manner of which he was used to as a player. He ripped a page straight out of the Seattle Seahawks playbook on how to structure the defense.
Norton was Seattle’s Linebackers Coach from 2010-2014 during the initial process and on in to that defenses premier success in the NFL. He watched. He studied. He is now implementing and building his own. He’s even brought in former players from Seattle’s roster such as Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin. Both of which had a considerable amount of success in their careers while with Seattle.
The Raiders were extremely active in free agency in adding several pieces in areas which were question marks for them prior to the 2016 offseason. Players like Sean Smith (CB), Bruce Irvin (OLB), along with rookie first rounder Karl Joseph (S) were all concrete pieces to patching up holes and question marks in areas of need. Smith, while not perfect, is long and rangy at 6’3″ like Richard Sherman – he has had success in hybrid zone schemes while in Kansas City and Miami. Irvin played in Seattle and already has the concepts and general knowledge of the scheme that Norton has implemented down for the most part. And Joseph has several characteristics similar to that of an Earl Thomas; his instinct in college was unrivaled by any other safety at the NCAA in his time in college.
Then they added Reggie Nelson (S) and David Amerson (CB) to provide even more veteran leadership back there which was crucial in the loss of future Hall of Famer, Charles Woodson to retirement.
On paper, the Oakland Raiders appear to be aligned to become a team that has been without defense for several years. The last time the Raiders had a relevant defense, they won an AFC Championship led by Rod Woodson, Charles Woodson, and Bill Romanowski and were playing for a Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Bucs and Jon Gruden, who essentially built the defense the Raiders had.
The 2016 depth chart, according to Ourlads.com, should wind up looking something similar to this: RDE – Mario Edwards Jr., NT – Justin Ellis, LDT – Dan Williams, LDE – Khlail Mack, SLB – Bruce Irvin, MLB – Ben Heeney, WLB – Malcolm Smith, LCB – Sean Smith, S – Karl Joseph, S – Reggie Nelson, RCB – David Amerson, and NB – Travis Carrie.
While it’s not yet set in stone, there won’t be much variation in that line up. Between all 12 players, there are several accolades and accomplishments both at the collegiate and pro levels. They have a great balance of youth and energy and veteran leadership; much like the defense in Seattle when they first began their ascent.
I don’t have a crystal ball and I do not pretend to be all knowing but I would be hard pressed, barring any major or significant injuries to the starters, to not bank on this defense to be a Top 10 (or more) defense in several categories. How that will translate in to the win/ loss columns is yet to be seen. But it’s never been said in the history of pro football that having a good to great defense can hurt you. You look at the personnel there and there’s not one glaring spot that you really worry about. At least significantly.
Norton, and the Raiders are primed with the personnel this year to make a run at the playoffs. Something that they have not been a part of for over a decade.
Raiders fans are excited. Their coaching staff is excited. And I am sure that Davis and the Raiders brass are excited to see how this year will unfold with all the pieces that they’ve added.