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How this Raiders cornerback became a ‘pivotal piece’ of defense

Nate Hobbs has played all over the field as a Raider. He’s invaluable this way. He is, as cornerbacks coach Ricky Manning Jr. says, the key that unlocks the defense.

Hobbs is that important to what the team wants to do when attempting to stop people this season.

That critical from the slot.

“That nickel (position) is very special,” Manning said. “And being able to play inside and outside is a unique characteristic to have. Just like Michael Carter with the Jets last year, a pivotal piece of that defense. That’s what Nate Hobbs is. That’s what the position has become.

“He can continue to ascend, and with his growth, our defense grows. It allows (defensive coordinator Patrick Graham) to call certain things because he can trust that Nate can get it done and get it communicated to everybody, and we can work well together.”

Hobbs is about to enter his fourth NFL season and speaks openly about wanting to take that next step from very good to elite. About the speed of things being even faster this offseason in the third year of Graham’s system. That the mindset is stronger.

He wants to better know when a quarterback is trying to manipulate him, to being a step ahead of the guy throwing passes. Just studying the game and trusting himself and putting in the work.

Head, not the tail

He views himself as a difference-maker, that if he plays at a high level, others will invariably follow. He tends to ignite the defense.

He believes everyone is on the same page, that there is a unique camaraderie among players on a side of the ball that could be among the league’s best in 2024.

“I feel like everybody wants to be out here,” Hobbs said. “Some people don’t want to be in cold-ass Buffalo or Green Bay. Everybody wants to be here, and everybody has a respect level.

“I think for me, my leadership and awareness (is better). My mama always told me, ‘On the head and not the tail.’ I was never the guy that wanted to be a leader. I just wanted to go out there and play and do my best.

“But me having that passion and swag and whatever else I bring to the game, it’s naturally always put me in a position where I have to lead. So, just stepping into it with 10 toes, and embracing it.”

The chip on his shoulder dates to his draft class, when Hobbs was projected a first- or second-round pick by some before falling to the Raiders in fifth round out of Illinois. It lit a fire under him.

A contract year

He has battled some injuries and last season played in 13 games and finished with 86 tackles (59 solo and six for loss) and an interception. Played inside and out. Played with a sense of urgency every snap.

But this is a contract year, and those are often when you see the best out of a player. When his entire game rises to another level. When things ramp up with production.

“I’m not really worried about that,” Hobbs said. “I’m not thinking about that. It’s cliche, but I know if I play to the best of my ability, and be the best me, everything I want will come if I work my ass off and be who I’m supposed to be for this team. So it’s not really on my mind.”

Here’s what he’s thinking: Hobbs has always been a competitor, always a guy who wanted to be better.

There are days when he feels others are working harder. And that drives things. The sense of pride fuels him.

“I was never satisfied with playing good or being good,” Hobbs said. “I could be better.”

He wants to be elite. On his way, for sure.

Contact Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on X.

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