Oakland Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio is confident in his oft-criticized defense.
“I’m more confident than a lot of people,” he said with a wry smile as he began to answer the throng of reporters this week.
What began as coachspeak immediately gave way to a JDR-patented reality check — Jack squat.
“Talk is cheap. There’s no sense in proclaiming anything,” Del Rio followed up. “We put in a lot of hard work and we have a group of guys who are looking forward to the challenges.”
While Raider Nation sees it as a steep Mount Everest uphill climb, what Del Rio, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and assistant head coach/defense John Pagano have been afforded in 2017 is a clean slate. Things are even keel heading into Week 1.
When Del Rio spoke of “a new year, with new stories”, the wily head honcho couldn’t be more right. New faces join the defense with linebacker Marquel Lee and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes — both rookies — dubbed starters and looked to solidify the gelatinous soft underbelly (middle) of the Raiders defense.
Del Rio pounced on the question about Lee at the presser like a linebacker rushing into the gap to drop the runner in the backfield.
“I was waiting for that question,” Del Rio crowed, “I can’t wait to see our guys. We’ll see. We put a lot of time and effort in developing our guys. That will remain a story until it’s not. He’s doing well, we’ll let that unfold.
“We’re looking forward to rolling out or guys. We’ll put our team against their team, that’s what we do on Sunday.”
Where does that leave Vanderdoes?
“I think the great story about Eddie is how fast he transitioned in for a guy who didn’t get much of an offseason into a guy who really applied himself early in camp,” Del Rio said of Vanderdoes. “He showed up early in camp and never really took a step back. He’s kind of been full-speed ahead.
“Both of those guys have earned their positions. We’re looking forward to watching them play.”
While Lee and Vanderdoes won’t’ be the end-all, be-all defensively, the middle linebacker and tackle are going to be integral to contending with the Tennessee Titans’ young gun quarterback: Marcus Mariota.
“He’s got mobility, he’s got arm strength, he’s got accuracy and he’s got intelligence,” Del Rio said of Mariota. “He’s got a lot of things you look for in a quarterback.”
Mariota credited the Raiders defense for giving him varying looks in both the Titans’ most recent defeats by Oakland’s hand.
Can the Raiders make it 3-for-3?