It’s become a daily routine in Raiders training camp. No matter where Davante Adams lines up, second-year cornerback Nate Hobbs is directly in front of him.
Don’t think for a minute that’s just the luck of the draw for Hobbs. Truth be told, he seeks out the matchups with Adams. Partly out of just wanting to get better, but also because of the giant chip on his shoulder, Hobbs has never backed down from a challenge and isn’t about to start now.
“Until I die. Real talk, until I die,” Hobbs said about the edge he plays with. “Where I’m from, I’m from Louisville, Kentucky, so I never got the chance to see anybody make it that far to the NFL with my own two eyes or personally know somebody. It feels like that in all areas of Louisville. We are a real underrated city. So growing up there it made me like that. I guess I was a creature of my habitat.”
He’s opened plenty of eyes in the Raiders’ building. Those who were around him last year marvel at the improvements in Year Two. Meanwhile, new additions like veteran safety Duron Harmon, who played on three Super Bowl championship teams with the Patriots, can barely hide their admiration for a player who seems poised for stardom.
“He’s an extremely focused young man,” Harmon said. “He’s working his tail off each and every day to be the best that he can be. He’s my locker mate. So when I talk about a guy that’s always asking questions, always trying to figure out how to get better, I’m talking about him. He’s fun to be around. He brings intensity every day.”
The coaching staff agrees.
“He wants to compete,” said Raiders secondary coach Jason Simmons. “That’s the one thing about Nate that nobody can ever question, his competitive spirit. He knows that he has a chance to go against one of the best receivers in the National Football League, if not the best receiver in the National Football League, and he welcomes that opportunity and that challenge.”
And that is when the show begins.
Adams is one the most feared wideouts of his generation and absolutely wins his share of battles with Hobbs, a fifth-round pick from Illinois last year who emerged as one of the best young corners in football as a rookie.
But Hobbs has more than held his own. And with each passing day, he keeps adding more wins to his belt
Like the time Adams tried to shake Hobbs with a goal-line stutter step, only to turn right and discover Hobbs had him blanketed. The result was an incomplete pass and Adams, ever the competitor, kicking the end zone pylon in anger.
That set the stage for another Adams and Hobbs head-to-head matchup a few plays later, this one with Adams lined up in the slot. He lost Hobbs with a brilliant body-and-head footwork move in the middle of the end zone.
Hobbs, though, never gave up, In one smooth movement, he transitioned his body back to the quarterback, picked up the football in flight, leaped and batted it away just as it was about to land in Adams’ arms.
As much as anyone, Hobbs has been a defensive standout in training camp. From not backing away from any challenge to holding his own with one of the best wide receivers in the game to the interception he came up with on Tuesday that, had it been an actual game, would have resulted in a pick-six, Hobbs is blossoming into a player who has star qualities.
In the process, it may change how the Raiders deploy him. Where Hobbs was strictly a slot cornerback last year — and arguably the best in the NFL at that spot — his role seems to be expanding to include playing time on the perimeter.
In fact, Hobbs has been listed as one of the two starters at cornerback in both depth charts the Raiders have released so far. The way he’s tracked Adams throughout camp, you get the feeling he might be drawing the assignment of covering the opponent’s best wide receiver each week.
That might seem daunting for such a young player. But his teammates see something so special in Hobbs, he appears built for the challenge.
“He works his butt off, and the sky’s the limit for Nate,” said Harmon. “How good Nate wants to be, that’s how good he (can) be. But the thing is, he puts in the work each and every day. He comes to work ready to go; he’s so athletic, so twitchy, can play inside and outside. I’m excited to see what Nate will do this year.”