Raiders plan to give young cornerbacks a chance
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) When the Oakland Raiders began overhauling their team after another dismal season, one position noticeably didn't get much help.
After bringing in a different pair of veteran starters at cornerback the past three seasons in failed trials, the Raiders decided it was time to give the young guys a closer look.
Barring a summer addition, the starters at cornerback this season in Oakland will likely come from a group that includes 2013 first-round pick DJ Hayden and second-year players TJ Carrie and Keith McGill.
That trio has combined to make just 15 career starts and has offered little proof as of yet that they can stand up to Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and other top-flight quarterbacks on Oakland's schedule.
''We feel like there is some talent in that group,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''They do need to be developed. They do need to be worked. A lot of times when you bring in older guys that may be safer guys Week 1, they're not able to hold up in Weeks 15 and 16, and they're not really changing the makeup of the team. We feel like it's time to develop these guys, bring these guys along.''
The Raiders had gone the veteran approach in general manager Reggie McKenzie's first three years in charge without much success.
Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer combined to make eight starts before their injury-plagued past became an issue once again.
Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins had better health and better play the next season but still failed to provide the answer in the secondary. Last year, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown got the call and weren't any better.
The Raiders added four potential starters on defense in free agency this offseason but none of them play cornerback.
''It's a sign that they believe in us,'' Hayden said. ''They believe in the young guys to come over and help this team win. I feel like we are all going to do the thing this year and help this secondary be one of the top ones in the National Football League.''
That hasn't been the case the past few seasons with the veterans getting the nod. In all, the Raiders have allowed the highest passer rating and third-most touchdown passes in the NFL over the past three years.
That makes trying a new tack a logical choice.
''You never know what those guys can do unless you put them out there,'' safety Charles Woodson said. ''They could have brought someone else in, a veteran, and maybe sit those guys down and let them develop, but then what? How do you know if those guys can really play? They're going to get a chance to prove it.''
Carrie was one of the few bright spots last season as a seventh-round rookie, allowing only one touchdown pass all season. McGill, a fourth-round pick, was limited by injuries and played mostly on special teams as a rookie.
Hayden was supposed to be the best of the group after being taken 12th overall two years ago. But injuries have hampered his development and he has struggled when he's played, allowing nine TD passes on 97 targets, according to Pro Football Focus.
But defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. likes what he sees.
''They're young, fast, long,'' he said. ''Most of the young cornerbacks that I've been involved with in Seattle were young. You just have to coach them up. Whether they're young or old, you just have to coach them up. You have to believe in your philosophy, believe in your technique and believe that you are a really good teacher. I believe that we have really good teachers here to coach the guys up and put them in positions to win.''
While there is little experience among the cornerbacks, they have a wealth of knowledge to draw upon. Woodson, entering his 18th season, was one of the best cornerbacks of his generation before making the switch to safety late in his career.
Then there's new assistant coach Rod Woodson, a Hall of Famer at the position who is now teaching young guys how to play.
''I almost have a book of notes that I just grasped from them two,'' Carrie said. ''Some previously from Charles last year, but now having both Woodsons this year. You have a sense that every question you could imagine asking, they have the answer to it.''
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