Raiders coaching staff expects Johnathan Abram to enforce and lead in 2020

Johnathan Abram attacks everything with a full-head of stream, which is why the Raiders spent a first-round pick on him a season ago, but for the first time in his career, the former Mississippi State product was forced to slam on the brakes when he suffered a shoulder injury 30 minutes into his rookie debut.

Before his injury against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, Abram was flying around like a bat out of hell, showing glimpses of why he was deemed worthy of wearing No. 24 by Charles Woodson. It's been nearly a year since he played any live regular season snaps, but the Raiders' coaching staff is optimistic as he enters Year Two — even though it's more of a rookie season.

In the first few days of training camp, Abram is applying the knowledge he learned on the sidelines last year during practice. Injuries aren't always a bad thing, considering they give inexperienced players time to learn a system or understand the pace of the game, and for someone with Abram's talent, an extra year to study defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme plays to his advantage.

"He looks good," Guenther told the media Thursday. "I mean, he played 30 minutes for us last year, so he's kind of going through it again like a rookie year, but he's picked up the system in his second year.

"Looking from the 10,000-mile view last year, sitting back and watching everything happen, he's come back in tremendous shape. Obviously, he's good in the middle of the field, he's an enforcer down in the box, and he's a good blitzer, and he's a vocal guy there, which we need for his leadership in the backend."

Two keywords: Enforce and lead.

Get an exclusive look at photos from the Raiders practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center during 2020 Training Camp.

That's what the Raiders are going to expect from Abram moving forward. As one of the key foundational pieces, the 23-year-old hard-hitting safety is going to serve as a building block for years to come, which is why General Manager Mike Mayock made sure to add versatile components around him this offseason.

"I don't want to make any predictions, but we didn't draft him in the first round for any other reason," Head Coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday. "We think he can be an outstanding player and he's got to stay healthy. He's got to prove he can do it, I think he can, but getting him back with Kwiatkoski and Littleton, the addition of Damarious Randall and Jeff Heath gives us more depth and versatility in the middle of our defense."

The Raiders have reconstructed the defense from top to bottom — there isn't a single defensive starter from the 2018 season on the team currently — and the added depth will enable Guenther to run his system the way he envisioned, which isn't something he's been able to do in the past.

"I think with the young talent that we have, the speed that we have — the first thing I notice is that we're much faster on defense," he said. "We've got some good rushers and some good cover guys, and that's what you need in this league to be successful."

We're one month away from the start of the regular season, as the Raiders travel to Carolina to face the Panthers, and we'll get our first real look at the new-and-improved defense.

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