ALAMEDA –- Reggie Nelson was named Raiders team captain by a vote of his peers. The veteran free safety demanded a recount.
This was his first year in Silver and Black. He surely couldn’t have made an impact on the locker room that fast. Results were accurate, with Nelson, Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Rodney Hudson leading a promising group into the 2016 season.
“There’s a great group of guys over here, and we’ve hit it off really well,” Nelson said. “I’m not a guy of too many words. I’m going to lead by example and lay it down and work. It was a real shock when I found out I was a captain. To be voted in by your peers is a great thing.”
Importing Nelson should be a real positive for this team and its defense. The 10th-year veteran is a safety net in the back, a ball hawk who can make quarterbacks pay. He tied an NFL high with eight interceptions last season and made his first Pro Bowl.
He was in Cincinnati then. He’s a Raider now, bringing nine seasons experience -- his first three were in Jacksonville with Jack Del Rio -- to an overhauled group of defensive backs looking to play together.
“As a senior guy in the secondary, he has a calming demeanor about him,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Really professional in the meetings and practices and taking charge and making guys accountable, making guys want to communicate with each other. I think those are real positive things for us.”
Players can’t enter a new locker room and demand respect. His resume and work ethic provided plenty of that, as did his insistence that the secondary work well together. Mistakes in the back are magnified – they most always become big plays – Nelson wants to prevent them whenever possible.
That starts by him learning a new defense quickly, and making sure the pass defense works together.
“Communication is the No. 1 key,” Nelson said. “That was my thing when I got here. I’m new to the defense, and I want people to tell me if I made the right check or not. The guys have been doing that, and it helped me get the defense down pat. That’s what I emphasize, whether I’m back there with Karl (Joseph) or Nate (Allen) or Keith (McGill). As long as we’re on the same page, nobody can stop us.”
This Raiders secondary is far better than last year’s version, which Charles Woodson had to keep together despite a bum shoulder. An All-Pro, Pro Bowler and resident sage in his last NFL season, Woodson made a lasting imprint on this franchise. Replacing him is impossible, though many believe they found an excellent option.
“If you had to replace Charles Woodson, he’s the guy you’d want to do it with," quarterback Derek Carr said. "He’s someone who’s a leader on and off the field. He has no problem getting into anybody’s face on the field, while at the same time two seconds later those same guys will listen to him and joke with him. That’s a fine line that’s hard to get and he has it. He has that about him. On top of all that, he’s a really good football player.”
Nelson quickly deflects such praise. He’s not one for hyperbole, choosing instead to focus on present circumstances and a promising season ahead. It starts in earnest Sunday at New Orleans.
“I’m just trying to be the best I can be,” Nelson said. “I want to lead this group by example like I’ve been doing.”