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With versatility on the field, Nate Hobbs becoming 'the key that unlocks our defense'

As defensive coordinator Patrick Graham continues to modernize his scheme within the landscape of football, Nate Hobbs' responsibilities on the field have also increased. Going into his fourth season with the Raiders, he'll be depended on to be the "star" within the secondary.

The star cornerback role, which players like All-Pro Jalen Ramsay have popularized, combines the duties of a nickel back and a weak side linebacker. The type of player who can drop back in coverage but also blitz the quarterback, stop the run or cover the flat when needed. Considering Hobbs' physical and athletic makeup, it's a position where he can excel.

He's proven himself as a great open field tacklers, compiling 86 total tackles in 2023 – the most of any defensive back on the Raiders. Even more impressive considering he missed four games. The cornerback has also totaled three sacks and 12 tackles for loss in his career.

According to cornerbacks coach Ricky Manning Jr., Hobbs' evolving role within the secondary could be extremely imperative for the 2024 campaign.

"Nate is the key that unlocks our defense," said Manning, who played six seasons in the NFL. "That nickel spot is very special, that star spot is very special. Being able to play inside and outside is a unique characteristic to have. ... That's what Nate Hobbs is, that's what the star position has become. He's the key to unlock our defense and he's great at it.

"He can continue to ascend, and with his growth, our defense grows. Our defense grows and it allows PG [Patrick Graham], our coordinator, to call certain things because he can trust that Nate can get it done and get it communicated to everybody and we can work well together."

As for Hobbs, the position he finds himself in is not one he takes lightly. The 2021 fifth-round pick carved out a starting role for himself as a rookie and hasn't looked back. He now sees his primary role in Year 4 as being "a difference maker."

"There are a lot of difference makers on this team, but if I play at a high level – and this is what people tell me – if I play at a high level, people tend to follow," Hobbs said. "I tend to ignite the defense, and it's not me saying that, I try to come out there and do the best I can every day for the team. So, other people telling me that – I just take that personal. I feel like we've got a whole bunch of me's on the defense. ... I'm just trying to do my part."

On his path to becoming the ultimate difference maker within the secondary, complacency has no place in Hobbs' mantra. He been working harder than ever in the film room to become more instinctual and believes his work in the classroom will take him to the next level.

"On the field, I feel like I'm pretty good, but I want to take that next step into elite," Hobbs said. "Being able to know when a quarterback is trying to manipulate me, knowing exactly where I am on the field, really being a step ahead. All the great defensive players, they're always like, 'How did he know that? How did he know that ball was going there?'

"I've always been a competitor. I've always been a person that wanted to just be better. I felt like I was never satisfied with playing good or being good. I could be better."

In collaboration with the Las Vegas Raiders assistant general manager, Champ Kelly, the Raiders hosted C.H.A.M.P. Camp, a weekend event for athletes to develop their skills on and off the field.

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