The Las Vegas Raiders made a lot of big additions this offseason but haven’t had a chance to see any of them in action due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With training camp about to start up, the team will finally be able to meet a lot their new faces. Perhaps the most exciting additions the Raiders made were adding linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. By adding those two guys, the team went from having one of the worst linebacker groups in the NFL to one of the best, according to Pro Football Focus.
Head coach Jon Gruden hasn’t spoken to the media much since the end of last season, but he recently did an interview with The Athletic’s Vic Tafur and gave some insight on how the Raiders plan to use their new linebackers.
“It’s an area we needed to improve,” Gruden said. “We think Littleton is a special player, and Kwiatkoski gets to run the band and be the lead singer. He’ll make the calls and make the adjustments. We think it’s his time.”
Having Kwiatkoski in the middle frees Littleton up to be a serious playmaker. For years, the Raiders have been terrible at linebacker. Now they’ve injected some youth and athletism that could completely change the defense.
Gruden Names ‘Under the Radar’ Addition
The Raiders didn’t only add linebackers this offseason. They targeted players all over the defense and one of the most interesting moves was to pick up former Dallas Cowboy Maliek Collins. His stats don’t necessarily jump off the page, but if you look a little further, you’d see he’s a very effective interior pass rusher. Gruden thinks he was an underappreciated signing.
“Under the radar, [defensive tackle] Maliek Collins is a really good player,” Gruden said. “He’s young and he’s got history with [new defensive line coach Rod] Marinelli. Marinelli is one of the best coaches I have ever met, and I have met a lot of coaches.”
The Raiders’ pass rush was greatly improved last season over 2018. However, there is still room for improvement. Adding Marinelli and Collins could do wonders for the whole defensive line.
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Gruden Talks Offensive Rookies
The defense isn’t without holes but it’s hard to imagine it not being significantly better in 2020. While the defense is promising, there’s a lot of excitement around the Raiders offense. The group already looked strong last year and the team brought in a few playmakers in the draft.
“I was very excited about our offense last year,” Gruden said. “I was very proud of what these guys did, so if we can come back healthy and throw in a little Henry Ruggs, maybe a little Bryan Edwards and, who knows, a little Lynn Bowden, we’ll see.”
With the lack of OTAs, it could take a little longer for rookies to start making an impact, but Ruggs should get a chance to start very quickly. The one big hole the Raiders had on offense last season was at wide receiver. If Ruggs can plug that hole, the team has a seriously dangerous offense.