Johnny Holton is a busy man these days.
While he might be a wide receiver by trade, typically used to wearing No. 16, Holton now wears No. 26 on his practice jersey, and that isn’t a mistake by the equipment staff; the former Cincinnati Bearcat is now listed as a defensive back on the Oakland Raiders roster.
And while Holton may now see his name on the defensive side of the roster, he’s also getting work on offense as well.
“It’s cool, I’m out here working at DB [defensive back] and wide receiver,” explained Holton.
“He’s still playing wide receiver,” added Head Coach Jon Gruden. “You don’t see practices. A lot of times offensive linemen play defensive line. Defensive linemen play offensive line. Linebackers play running back. We have a receiver playing running back. Trying to get the 10 best prospects on your practice squad as possible and keep developing them. At the same time, you have to service the other side of the ball. He’s one of those dual players right now.”
Since 2016, Holton has appeared in 31 games for the Raiders – all as a wide receiver – but after being waived on September 3, Holton was re-signed to the team’s practice squad as a defensive back earlier this week, and while he hasn’t played defense in his football career, he’s looking forward to the challenge of a position switch.
“It’s pretty cool,” Holton said. “It’s pretty challenging. I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to make the transition to DB. It’s a pretty awesome experience so far.”
So – through his first handful of practices as a defensive player – have there been any big surprises thus far?
“Not really, because I knew the receiver splits, so wherever they’re lining up at, I pretty much know what kind of route they’re about to run, and things like that by being a receiver myself,” Holton said. “So being at DB, I can just read their splits and kind of just tell what route they’re [going to] run.”
Over the years, a handful of Raiders have successfully changed positions – Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece immediately come to mind – and while it remains to be seen what Holton does with his opportunity, it’s clear that the team values what Holton brings to the special teams units.
“He’s very valuable on special teams but we wanted to find a spot for him on the roster,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “We managed to put him there where we got, I wouldn’t say a log jam at wide receiver, but we got a full room there. We had a roster spot available and we are looking for help in all areas but certainly special teams is a big area we put a big premise on. He’s helped us there in the past and we just wanted to get him back on the roster.”
Holton is indeed back on the roster, and while he doesn’t count towards the team’s 53 active players at the moment, he’ll be an intriguing player to keep an eye on throughout 2018.
And for a player who’s played on offense his entire life, making his first play on defense – whether it’s in a game or in practice – is something Holton is looking forward to.
“It’ll be a pretty cool moment,” he said. “I know the guys in the locker room will love to see that, and joke about that, and things like that.”