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New hire Gus Bradley promises defense that plays smart

Updated January 12, 2021 - 3:34 pm

If the Raiders’ defensive problems over the last two years create any concern for Gus Bradley, the coach now entrusted with solving them, he isn’t showing it.

In fact, the way the Raiders’ new defensive coordinator enthusiastically attacked his introductory zoom press conference on Tuesday, it is clear he is already champing at the bit to get started.

That will have to wait a few months. But there will be no shortage of energy and passion when Bradley begins that process.

“Fast, physical and we have to find a way to get the ball” is how Bradley described his defense’s approach.

What that ultimately means for a defense that surrendered the third-most points in the NFL this season and let the Raiders down time and again in big moments remains to be seen.

But as Bradley plainly reiterated on Tuesday, the foundation he sets will be based on a handful of core principles.

“Great effort. Great enthusiasm. Great toughness,” Bradley explained. “And a defense that plays smart.”

The Raiders had difficulty stringing those attributes together on a consistent basis the last three years under Paul Guenther, who was fired 13 games into this season and replaced on an interim basis by Rod Marinelli.

Their search to find a coordinator capable of creating those dynamics led them to Bradley, the one-time protege of Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and a confidante of Marinelli, who will stay on as defensive line coach.

From the Chargers, Bradley is bringing with him Ron Milus as defensive backs coach and Richard Smith as linebackers coach. He has yet to determine the makeup of the rest of his new defensive staff.

It was Gruden who plucked Bradley off the coaching staff at North Dakota State in 2006 to be his linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In doing so, he put Bradley on the coaching fast track.

Two years later Bradley became the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks, where he played a pivotal road in the drafting and developing of players who would ultimately form the Legion of Boom defense that helped lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory over Denver in 2014 and a Super Bowl loss to New England in 2015.

After an unsuccessful stint as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013 through 2016, Bradley returned to his defensive roots as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers from 2017 through 2020.

In Los Angeles, Bradley oversaw a group that finished 15th, ninth, sixth and 10th in yards given up from 2017 through 2020.

And while the Chargers slipped to 23rd in points allowed per game last year at 26.6, they were among the top half of the NFL the previous three seasons while finishing third in 2017 at 17.0, eighth in 2018 at 20.6 and 14th in 2019 at 21.6.

Any replication of the Chargers’ efforts from 2017 to 2019 would represent a profound improvement for the Raiders, and coupled with an offense that ranked 10th last season at 27.1 points per game could push the Raiders into legitimate playoff contention.

In fact, the offense was very much on Bradley’s mind upon sitting down with Gruden and a Raiders’ contingency that included owner Mark Davis and general manager Mike Mayock to talk about the possibility of coming on board as the defensive coordinator.

No longer as someone tasked with trying to stop it, Bradley arrives as a coach determined to create more chances for Derek Carr and Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs to produce more points.

Forcing turnovers and getting the opposing offense off the field as quickly as possible are now the starting point for everything the Raiders’ defense does under Bradley.

“We have to set up opportunities for the offense to score, give them possessions,” Bradley said. “We want the players to have the mindset that every call that we have is designed to get the ball.”

Bradley brings to the Raiders the 4-3 defensive front Gruden prefers, and while he is known primarily as a Cover-3 proponent on the back end, he promised flexibility to fit the skills of the personnel he oversees.

“We’re going to be very multiple but not at the expense that we don’t play fast,” Bradley said. “That’s first and foremost.”

Time is of the essence, of course. The Raiders can’t afford to waste many more productive offensive seasons. And with all the draft capital and free agency money they devoted to their current defense, the need to get a return on their investment is urgent.

In just the last two years the Raiders added first-round picks in defensive end Cle Ferrell, safety Jonathan Abram and cornerback Damon Arnette and a second-round pick in cornerback Trayvon Mullen. They also added free agent linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive end Carl Nassib last offseason.

Another draft and another free agency period will add new personnel next spring, but the bulk of the Raiders’ improvement next season is predicated on Bradley getting more out of the current core.

“I think our job as coaches is really to evaluate the players and put them in position to where they can make plays,” Bradley said.

Vinny Bonsignore can be reached at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.

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