Safety Reggie Nelson
Reggie Nelson can't believe it's been over a decade.
"I wish it was Year Nine again," the veteran defensive back says with a laugh.
But, the fact remains that 2017 will be Nelson's 11th season in the NFL, and while the days of his rookie season with the Jacksonville Jaguars may seem like a professional lifetime ago, he still remembers that season as if it was yesterday.
"It's been a while, but you never forget your first time out there," said Nelson. "When I got drafted, I started right away, and you're talking about nerve wracking, being out there with some veterans, and this is how you feed your family, so you don't want to let the guy down next to you."
Fast forward a decade, and Nelson is still making his living between the hash marks – albeit it now in Silver and Black – as he roams the Raiders secondary, while also filling a new role, that of a mentor.
During the early stages of his career, Nelson was taken under the wings of a group of veterans; defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud, and running back Fred Taylor, and the trio not only got the young defensive back up to speed on the field, but made sure that he was taking care of his business off of it as well.
Now, the student has become the teacher, and Nelson finds himself with a crop of young players under his tutelage, and his goal with them is simple, just pay the support forward that he had 10 years ago in Jacksonville.
"Just teach them how to be pros, and what I was taught coming in, and what I've learned throughout my 11-year career, and trying to extend it," Nelson said. "It's a young man's game, so you have to keep on stroking around here."
Let's be clear though, while Nelson is indeed preparing for his 11th NFL season, he's certainly not just some veteran player happy to be on the roster. Nelson has been named to the Pro Bowl in back-to-back seasons, and not only that, his five interceptions led the Silver and Black in 2016, and his 35 career picks ranks third amongst all active NFL players.
That doesn't mean he's resting on his Pro Bowl laurels though; Nelson has played enough football, and spent enough time in the NFL to know that starting sports are far from guaranteed, and that there's always a younger, less expensive player waiting in in the wings ready to take your snaps.
That being said, even as he pushes 34 years old, Nelson is having fun competing against players now a decade his junior.
"You [have to] fight with all these young guys," Nelson said with a laugh. "When they get drafted, your job is already in jeopardy. It's up to you to keep doing the little things right, and competing. That's one thing I love about here, and what [Head] Coach Jack [Del Rio] always preaches here. He wants to see competing. That's it. He wants to compete, and you'll get your fair shot. If you beat him out, you beat him out. It's all about doing your job, and keep doing the little things, and at the same time, bringing along the guy next to you, because if something happens to you, you don't want to skip a beat at all. You can't be too selfish in this league."
Part of that unselfishness now manifests itself in Nelson's aforementioned mentorship to a primarily young group of defensive backs, perhaps most noticeably Karl Joseph and rookie Obi Melifonwu.
Nelson – like many others – called Melifonwu a "freak," but as far as Joseph is concerned, Nelson thinks that 2017 will spell big things for the former West Virginia Mountaineer.
"I thought Karl did a good job," Nelson said when discussing Joseph's rookie campaign. "He did an excellent job of coming in and playing and stuff, and doing the things they asked him to do. I think there's always that one year you have to get behind you as a rookie, and see what the game is like, and the pace of it, and I think he's doing a great job this year knowing within the defense what he can and cannot do, just executing the defense, period, that [Defensive Coordinator] [Ken] Norton calls."
The Raiders are currently in the midst of the Offseason Workout Program, and while Organized Team Activities and Minicamp can be draining for some, headed into his 11th season, Nelson is still as motivated as ever to get the Silver and Black back to the postseason.
"We just have to keep continuing focusing on the little things right now, and just keep getting better as a defense as a whole right now," Nelson said. "This is the time to do that, ask questions, and bring along the young guys, because once camp starts, people are really, really fighting for jobs, and that's when things get serious."