Nick Kwiatkoski isn't a stranger to wearing the green dot, but for the first time in his career, the Las Vegas Raiders linebacker will be asked to do it full-time.
The former Chicago Bear was the first player the Silver and Black signed this offseason and despite offers from several other teams, the Raiders' rich history proved to be a selling point for Kwiatkoski, in addition to the opportunity he's been given.
For years, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and the Raiders' front office have tried to get the right pieces in place, but acquiring premier linebackers has been challenging until now. With Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton in the mix, Guenther finally has two athletic linebackers capable of communicating his system effectively, which will fall heavily on the shoulders of Kwiatkoski.
"I did it a bunch in Chicago," Kwiatkoski said Monday when asked about being assigned the green dot. "Off and on in the time that I was there, so it's something that I'm used to, but just for here I'm working on communicating with Cory [Littleton] — he's right next to me, helping him with calls. Just overall communication with the defense, we lost a lot of time in spring and that's a big part of what I'm trying to do on the field right now."
Picking up a new scheme is an undertaking all its own, but communicating it to the players around Kwiatkoski can only improve with on-field reps, which have been hard to come by during the pandemic. The familiarity with one another will come with time, time that the Raiders and teams around the league don't have.
Throughout the offseason, the coaching staff has tried to get the newcomers up to speed with extensive Zoom meetings, but nothing can replicate live practices. In the early going, the defense has gelled well in training camp, but the work is far from over. Fortunately, the team has a pair of experienced players in the middle of the defense. While Guenther will communicate through Kwiatkoski, Littleton will serve an integral role as well, and the former West Virginia Mountaineer is thrilled to work alongside him.
"I'm excited to play with him," he said. "I got the chance to play against him last year [in Chicago], seeing him now, he's athletic and an all-around linebacker. He does a lot of things well and I'm excited to play next to him."
Building chemistry with his new teammates is imperative, but so is establishing a relationship with his coach. It's odd to think that a handful of players weren't able to formally meet their new coaching staff in-person for months on end, but in the time Kwiatkoski has been around Guenther, the duo has gotten off to a great start.
"First impression is great, like I said in spring," Kwiatkoski told reporters. "I love the way he coaches, the scheme, everything is great. Now, I actually get to meet him in person and be on the field with him — he's been great. Just kind of putting a lot of things in, in a short amount of time. Barring the situation, so far, it's been awesome."
Guenther's zone-based 4-3 scheme is different than what Kwiatkoski ran in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 base defense last year, but he seems more than up to the task of running the Raiders' defense in 2020 and beyond.