ALAMEDA – Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was asked to describe the new Raiders defense. He pondered the question some, and replied with sounds over words.
“Boom!” Lofton said in a startling tone. “Our defense is going to play a little like that.”
While unconventional, the description is apt. Lofton’s scream was jarring, aggressive, in-your-face. The Raiders defense wants to play that way.
“We take on the personality of our defensive coordinator,” Lofton said. “He has a ton of energy, and we’re going to play that way. We’re going to be stingy. We’re going to be tough, and we’re going to dictate what happens.”
Ken Norton Jr. is passionate and relentless in pursuit of perfection, without being a drill sergeant.
“He brings it every single day,” Lofton said. “More than once I’ve come to work and thought, ‘today will be the day he doesn’t have it.’ I’m wrong every time. We love his energy. We feed off of it.”
If Lofton thought Tuesday’s OTA session would’ve been a down day, he would have been mistaken. Norton was fiery yet optimistic. He’ll voice displeasure with mistakes and correct them quickly, but he certainly celebrates quality play.
That was evident with strong safety Charles Woodson made an acrobatic interception near the sideline during an 11-on-11 drill. The offense swore he picked Christian Ponder out of bounds. Norton disagreed. The former linebacker sprinted towards the play yelling, "He was in bounds! He was in bounds!" and was the first to congratulate Woodson on the play.
That’s an example of Norton’s energy, which the players love.
“Man. I thought he was quiet today,” head coach Jack Del Rio said with a laugh.
Del Rio is happy the players have responded well to Norton and the defensive assistants, most of whom exude intensity.
“We ask our players to express themselves and be themselves and have fun, but put in the work and understand what it takes, and we’re getting all that,” Del Rio said. “Ken and (defensive line coach Jethro Franklin) and (linebackers coach Sal Sunseri), all those guys are vocal. We like the way we’re working. We’re working with a lot of energy. We’re developing players and developing the mentality we want to have. I think it’s gone great.”
Norton played 13 seasons in the NFL. Del Rio played 11. Rod Woodson and Marcus Robertson had long, decorated careers. The defensive players respect that.
“You’ve got to open up and absorb the information. Be a sponge,” Lofton said. “Those guys have been in your position. They’ve done everything and seen everything. When they’re telling you something, it’s not just ‘coach talk.’ It’s players that have played that are now coaches. It helps you out just that much more. Even when you’re watching film. My coach will tell me that my steps are off here, and he knows that by having my steps off, I’m going to miss out on plays. Being a sponge and absorbing it is going to help us be better.”