Linebacker Nicholas Morrow
It looks like Nicholas Morrow has found himself in a niche in Ken Norton, Jr.'s defense, and he thinks he knows why.
Through the first two weeks of the 2017 preseason, Morrow has been lining up as hybrid linebacker, playing both inside and out, tracking down wide receivers and tight ends alike, as well as working with the Silver and Black's special teams units.
"The game is getting faster," explained Morrow postgame. "Running backs are catching the ball out of the backfield and not just running it. Tight ends are more receivers than they are blockers, so I think that's really where it's come from, the more athletic players on the perimeter, and tight ends and running backs are getting into perimeter passing downs, so you need someone who can run with them in the box, and so, there's the birth of the hybrid linebacker."
Morrow believes that the "hybrid" role is one that suits his skillset; not only does it allow him to get into the action on run defense, he also gets to show off his athleticism and cover players in space.
"I like playing in space," Morrow said. "I played in space four years in college, so definitely playing outside is kind of my niche."
While he now gets to play in space as a professional, that's likely where the similarities end between his time as a Greenville Panther and his past few months spent as an Oakland Raider.
Located 45 miles outside of St. Louis, the liberal arts university is known more for its notable music alumni – the bands Augustana and Jars of Clay – than its athletic programs, a fact that isn't lost on the 22-yeard old rookie.
"I'm some [Division] III kid from the middle of nowhere, playing in an NFL game, you can't write that up, man," Morrow said. "It's been a blessing, and I'm just along for the ride."
And so far it's been a good ride, and with his play on the field, Morrow has caught the attention of Head Coach Jack Del Rio.
"Nick is one of those young guys that's been given the opportunity to compete; he finds the ball a little bit," Head Coach Del Rio said Saturday. "Nick at the end of the game had a nice breakup, almost got a pick, which would've ended it, would've been nice."
Morrow finished his second game as a Raider with a pair of tackles, one tackle for loss, a tackle on special teams, and the pass defensed that Del Rio mentioned above.
Yes, in theory, if Morrow had indeed secured that fourth quarter pass it would have sealed the Raiders first preseason win, but nevertheless, the play served as a highlight in what was a solid night overall for the rookie linebacker.
"Earlier during that series they went to that checkdown, and I missed a tackle actually, so I knew they were coming back to it," Morrow recounted. "Same thing, checkdown, the quarterback flipped his weight, and I saw it, and just broke on it. Just really looking at his tendencies, and where he was going with it."
While Morrow overall enjoyed a strong outing against the Rams, he knows there are unquestionably areas that he needs to improve if he wants to secure a coveted spot on the Raiders final roster, mainly in run defense.
"I have to definitely work on my run game, getting down on those run fits, keeping my outside shoulder free when I'm supposed to," he said. "There are definitely areas of improvement that I have to do."
Morrow will get his next chance to leave a lasting imprint on the Raiders coaching staff next Saturday evening against the Dallas Cowboys, but before that, he's focused on controlling what he can control more immediately.
"Every day, every rep, you have to make them count," Morrow said. "Every day, every rep."