NAPA –- Keith McGill looks like a modern NFL cornerback. He’s 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, with strength and a long wingspan.
He fits the Seattle Seahawks mold of a physical, press cornerback, something the Raiders will value under defensive coordinator Ken Norton, who cut his teeth working under Pete Carroll.
McGill is a potential scheme fit, albeit one with little experience. McGill has taken 194 defensive snaps since being selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft, most of which came in last year’s final two games.
That didn’t scare a new Raiders coaching staff led by head coach Jack Del Rio. The Raiders have McGill running with the first unit in training camp, a move dated back to a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.
It wasn’t something McGill gave much thought. He’s simply focused on development this early in his career.
“I’m just focused on performance when I’m on the field,” McGill said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I’m with the first, second or third team. When I’m out there, I have to make the reps count. If the coaches trust me to take snaps with the first team when the season starts, then I’m going to do what I have to do. I have confidence in myself, and I have to make sure my teammates have confidence in me.”
McGill got a confidence boost from last year’s limited action, which included his first career start in the 2014 regular-season finale at Denver. Del Rio was on the field that day as Broncos defensive coordinator. While he was surely focused on other things McGill was targeted nine times and allowed three receptions for 72 yards. He also recovered a fumbled and returned it for a touchdown.
“Going against All-Pros in Denver is a real trial by fire, but I was able to do what I had to do,” McGill said. “Taking those reps did give me a boost into the offseason and this camp. The experience showed me I can play at this level, even though I have a lot of improvement left ahead of me.”
McGill showed playmaking ability on Saturday, when Amari Cooper secured a reception in tight coverage, but McGill stuck with the play and punch the ball free for a forced fumble that ended an offensive drive in 11-on-11 drills. Raiders coaches are looking for plays like that from their young corners.
The Raiders are also looking for a more physical style of play from their defensive backs.
“They’re asking all of the corners to be physical at the line of scrimmage and press,” McGill said. “That’s an adjustment we’re all going through, and we have to get it done.”
McGill, TJ Carrie and DJ Hayden need to develop and progress enough to perform at a consistently high level this season. There’s plenty of talent there to do so. McGill and Carrie have been first team cornerbacks, with Hayden stepping in on sub packages. Del Rio said the cornerback hierarchy will work itself out this preseason, and that he has confident these young players can figure things out.
“We feel like we have a good, young group of corners,” Del Rio said. “We want them to be competitive and let them sort it out. Keith has had a solid spring. DJ and TJ, all three of those guys, we feel like they had good springs and will be productive players for us and we’ll let them determine who’s No. 1, who’s No. 2 and who’s No. 3.
“Right now, we’re pleased with all those guys. I’ve seen reports that suggest otherwise, but that’s not coming from me. That’s not coming from our staff. We like the way they work and we like the way they’re competing and we think they’re going to develop just fine and play good, solid football for us.”