The Las Vegas Raiders and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham continue to put together a strong coaching staff on defense. The team has already hired Chris Ash and Jason Simmons to work in the secondary, and Rob Ryan as a senior defensive assistant. One of the most important openings was linebackers coach.
The Raiders have some good players at linebacker but there could be some turnover at the position. Instead of going with a veteran from the NFL coaching ranks to fill the position, the team has decided to go with a former player. According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Las Vegas has hired Antonio Pierce as their linebackers coach.
Longtime NFL fans will be familiar with Pierce as he spent nine years as a linebacker for the Washington Commanders and New York Giants. After his NFL career, he got into coaching at the high school and then college ranks. He was most recently the defensive coordinator for Arizona State. As a player, Pierce made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and won a Super Bowl with the Giants in the 2007 season. Interestingly enough, that Giants team beat the undefeated New England Patriots while new Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels was still on staff.
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Pierce Could Rising Star in Coaching Ranks
Pierce previously struggled as the head coach of Long Beach Polytechnic High School, which has one of the strongest football programs in the country. After he resigned from his position, he joined the college ranks at Arizona State. He started as a linebackers coach/recruiting coordinator and worked his way to be the team’s defensive coordinator.
In 2021, Arizona State had the 13th best defense in the country under Pierce. It must’ve taken some convincing to get him to the NFL after success in college. If the Raiders defense has a great year, Pierce could start getting looked at as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. Graham was a head coaching candidate before the Raiders hired him. If he gets a head coach job next offseason, perhaps he’ll start grooming Pierce to take over the defensive coordinator job. He’ll be an assistant to watch in Las Vegas this season.
Pierce Has His Work Cut out for Him
The highest-paid linebackers on the Raiders are Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski. Unfortunately, neither saw a lot of playing time towards the end of last season due to injuries and poor play. Littleton is a player to watch this offseason as the Raiders could cut him but it would cost $14 million in dead cap. It might be smarter to see if Graham and Pierce could get him to return to Pro Bowl form. He was considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL when the Raiders signed him.
While Littleton might be a tough puzzle to solve, Pierce should be excited about working with Denzel Perryman and Divine Deablo. The former was a Pro Bowler last season and broke the Raiders’ single-season tackle record with 154. Deablo was a rookie who transitioned to linebacker after playing safety in college. He showed a lot of promise last season and Pierce could help develop him into a star.