It's almost been a calendar year since second-year cornerback Nick Nelson took a live snap in a regular season game, but he's finally going to get his opportunity in 2019.
Throughout the week, Head Coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther indicated Nelson would potentially see some action this weekend, as the team plans to get a look at some of its younger talent.
The Oakland Raiders selected the former Wisconsin Badger in the fourth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the intent of making him one of their key nickel cornerbackss, given the lack of depth at the position. In college, Nelson was originally an outside cornerback and it's where he became most comfortable, but proving his versatility was important to him as a rookie.
"He's played some outside and some nickel last year," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said Thursday. "You know we drafted him as an outside corner but we didn't have any nickel depth, so we kind of said hey, that's such a unique position in there, we kind of let him concentrate on that position."
Nelson played in 10 games last year – primarily at the nickel position – getting his first action Week 8 against the Indianapolis Colts, and later earning his first start Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens. Statistically speaking, Nelson's rookie year wasn't as productive as he may have hoped, totaling 20 tackles, one pass defensed, and one fumble recovery, but it gave him the experience he needed as a raw talent.
Following the end of the season, Nelson knew he needed to improve in a lot of areas going forward, and he was anxious to get his chance to do so; however, at the end of training camp this year, the team waived Nelson, but eventually signed him to the practice squad.
Mentally, it's hard to go from seeing extended playing time as a rookie to be placed on the scout team, but Nelson hasn't looked at it that way.
"For one, being on the practice squad is kind of hard on your body because you get so many reps," he said. "So, I feel like I'll be in shape; my body [will] be physically ready. Practice squad is for you to get better, you're going against the starters, the ones, every day. I just have to put it on the game field now."
During his time on the practice squad, Nelson has appreciated the mentorship he's received from many of the veterans in the Raiders' locker room. The transition from outside cornerback to nickel, and now back to outside cornerback. might not seem overly complicated, but it's not what Nelson was accustomed to prior to joining the Silver and Black, but the words of encouragement and guidance he's received from some of the vets have helped him grow.
"Originally, I played corner in college, but my whole rookie year I played nickel, so wherever they put me at I feel like I'm comfortable," Nelson said. "I had some good vets in front of me like Lamarcus [Joyner], Leon [Hall] last year, and Daryl [Worley] and Gareon [Conley]. I had some good vets to learn from, so I feel like wherever they put me at I feel comfortable at."
In the past six months, Nelson has improved in zone coverage, man coverage, special teams, and just understands the game better than he did a year ago. Nelson is ready to capitalize on his opportunity and apply his newfound knowledge on the field.