Safety Keith McGill II
Prior to Sunday's Week 1 matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the last time Keith McGill II lined up as a safety was his during first year at the University of Utah, and during those games in Salt Lake City, Drew Brees certainly wasn't the quarterback he was tasked with working against.
But that's the situation the converted cornerback found himself in last week, as he not only earned the start at strong safety against the Saints, but played every defensive snap except two in the 35-34 win at the Superdome.
In total, McGill finished the game with six total tackles and one pass defensed., Head Coach Jack Del Rio was pleased with what he saw from the rangy defensive back.
"I thought he did pretty well," said Del Rio. "As a group, we have a lot to improve. I thought overall he was pretty solid in the game."
McGill also delivered a similar self-critique, being sure to mention that while he was pleased with his effort, there were still things to clean up going forward.
"I think it went pretty good," McGill said. "There's always room for improvement, but other than that, I think it went well."
While McGill lining up at safety in the regular season opener may not have been a surprise, the fact that he not only started, but played nearly every defensive snap after being listed as the backup free safety on the Week 1 depth chart was certainly intriguing.
However, during his Monday press conference, Del Rio matter-of-factly laid out the reasons he elected to go with the third-year man Sunday at the Superdome.
"I think last week was the week where we said, in reality, 'This is the guy that has had the best camp. This is the guy that's really earned it,'" Del Rio explained. "There are a couple different ways you could look at it. You could go with the veteran guy, you can go with the young guy who has the draft status or you can go with the guy that's earned it on the field and we elected to go with the guy that earned it on the field."
Cornerback DJ Hayden has been teammates with McGill since the now-safety was a rookie, and throughout the offseason, he has seen an increase in schematic comfortability from No. 39.
"When Keith was playing corner, he just had corner on his mind, but now, Keith has a better overall [understanding] of the whole defense, to what's going on, because he plays safety now," Hayden said. "I feel like it was a great move for him. I like Keith at safety. He was in the run. He had a couple of pass breakups. He was there, so I'm cool with it."
Standing at 6'3" and tipping the scales at 211 pounds, McGill boasts impressive size, and since the position switch, he has embraced the physicality that goes hand-in-hand with his new position.
"You're not just covering all game," McGill said. "You're in the run read, you're in the passes, when tight ends come out, you have to shed those guys, and I guess, my physical attributes are able to show."
McGill is now listed as the starting strong safety on the Raiders depth chart, and figures to see more extended run Sunday at home against the Atlanta Falcons, but regardless of how much time he sees, he just wants to get better.
"Every day I just tried to improve," McGill said. "I didn't really think about marking the days up, or tallying them, I just tried to go out there and be better every day."