ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden’s vow to shake things up following three consecutive blowout losses for Oakland is leading to an extended audition for at least two of the Raiders‘ young players on defense.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Thursday that the team wants to see more of cornerback Isaiah Johnson and safety Dallin Leavitt over the final three weeks of the regular season.
“We just felt like we had some guys on our team that needed a chance to see what they can do,” Guenther said. “There’s some younger guys that we invested in in the draft that we have to see them develop and play and see what they can do on Sundays for us.”
The Raiders have been working with a patchwork lineup on defense most of the season. They lost rookie safety and first-round pick Jonathan Abram to a season-ending shoulder injury in the first half of the first game of the year. Inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the remainder of the season following a hit on Indianapolis tight end Jack Doyle in Week 4.
Since then Guenther has had a revolving door at several positions as the injuries have piled up.
This time the changes come out of curiosity more than necessity.
That was partially the reason behind the team’s decision to release safety D.J. Swearinger, defensive tackle Terrell McCain and linebacker Preston Brown on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old Swearinger had started three of the four games he played in after signing with the Raiders as a free agent in early November.
“Some new guys were thrown in some new spots they haven’t played in a while and some guys that had been here for a couple weeks didn’t play nearly at the level I hoped to,” Guenther said. “D.J. was a good guy. He tried hard, he studied hard, he was a good teammate.”
Johnson, a fourth-round pick this year, spent the first eight weeks of the season on injured reserve with a bone fracture in his face. He was activated for a Week 10 game against the Chargers and played sparingly each of the next two weeks before he was inactive against the Chiefs and Titans.
Johnson and fellow rookie Trayvon Mullen, the Raiders’ second-round pick, are likely to get the bulk of playing time at cornerback the remainder of the season. To accommodate that opportunity, veteran cornerback Daryl Worley will see time at safety.
“We think Worley has some game-changing ability, and we think he can play corner and safety,” Gruden said. “I think he’s got a little Malcolm Jenkins in him. I think he’s got some skill that we need to use more of. We need to see these young corners to be honest with you, more of these two young corners and Nick Nelson included.”
Leavitt went undrafted out of Utah State in 2018 and spent most of that year on Oakland’s practice squad. The 25-year-old has played primarily on special teams this season.
“He sees the field good back there,” Guenther said. “He really does a good job of reading the quarterback and on the fifth step seeing where the quarterback’s suppose to go. He’s a guy that just needs an opportunity to go do it.”
NOTES: Running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) made it through a second straight practice, increasing his odds of playing Sunday against Jacksonville after sitting out last week. … Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow practiced for the first time in nearly three weeks after injuring his ribs against the Jets. … Former Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson was in the locker room with a camera crew documenting his every move. Woodson was filming a segment for NFL Films series “The Grind.”
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